The Halloween storm that destroyed roads and washed out culverts across Lamoille County struck two months ago, and recovery and rebuilding efforts are largely completed.
But not along Mud City Loop in Morristown.
Part of that road is still closed, and is likely to remain so until spring.
Residents along the road gave the Morristown Select Board an earful Dec. 16.
“You can’t own a car if you live there; you can’t leave your home,” said Lee Labier. “It’s totally absurd.
“Why isn’t that bridge fixed? It’s been seven weeks, and now you’re telling us we have to wait five months?” Labier exclaimed. “We’re tired of it.”
“We understand your frustrations,” select board chair Bob Beeman responded.
The problem isn’t actually a bridge, but a large culvert located where Mud Brook passes under Mud City Loop near Bryan Pond Road.
One issue there is that Mud City Loop never actually fully washed out there, explained town administrator Dan Lindley. Instead, Tyler Mumley, the engineer hired by the town to oversee the project, believes the storm caused the large culvert to begin — or continue — collapsing, as water somehow made its way around or over it. That ongoing collapse has caused the road to sink above the culvert.
“We don’t exactly know how,” Lindley said, but “there’s a crater right on top of the culvert.”
“It’s a big pipe; it’s depressed; it’s defective,” Mumley said at the meeting.
The uncertainty about what is causing the depression in the road, and making the culvert collapse beneath that, has Mumley worried that it “could completely collapse” suddenly, with the entire road falling in. That makes it inadvisable to fill in the problem spot to make the road passable, or to let drivers use one side of the road that is still drivable.
Residents of Mud City Loop said they were told the road would be reopened, but nothing has been done.
“We’d been told right along that it was going to be a quick fix for the winter,” Labier said at the meeting. Now it looks like nothing will be done till spring.
Mud City Loop is in fact a loop. Residents can take the long way around to Cole Hill Road, now that the shorter route to Walton Road is unavailable for those living above the failing culvert. But that alternate route is steep and can be treacherous in the winter. And locals say the road becomes nearly impassable during mud season.
A mini-thaw earlier in December put potential road problems on full display, the crowd added, as the only way off Mud City Loop turned into a quagmire.
And, when the highway crew came to fix the problem, it did a less-than-desirable job, the group added.
“We can’t make it” through a full mud season without the other route off the mountain, Labier said.
Poor road conditions have already made it difficult for fuel trucks and other large vehicles to use the section of the road that is open, and several passenger vehicles have had to be towed out of rougher sections of the road.
Residents say employees of major construction companies have told them the Mud Brook culvert should be an easy fix.
“Why are we waiting till spring?” resident Kathleen Liebler asked the board.
“What happened to the quick fix?” Labier asked.
Lindley said the only safe, quick fix is a temporary bridge. The town asked the state transportation agency for a 40-foot temporary bridge to replace the failing culvert; the agency has temporary bridges that are available to towns. But Morristown’s application was denied, Lindley said, probably because an alternate route is available to people who live on the road.
Lindley said the denial notice arrived in the second week of December, and the municipal staff hadn’t come up with an alternative by the meeting Dec. 16.
With no temporary bridge available, Mumley said he’s not recommending a quick fix. A box culvert, or some other similar, long-term solution, is the way to go.
“I don’t see it right now,” he said, when asked if there’s any way to reopen the road before spring.
Board member Eric Dodge reassured residents of Mud City Loop that the town will move quickly on long-term options, but it’s “not realistic to have a box culvert put in before spring.”
“But we can start that process tonight,” board chair Bob Beeman said.
“Construction can’t even start until spring. This needs to be designed and permitted,” Lindley said.
Lindley also said he’ll approach the Agency of Transportation again about a temporary bridge, but doesn’t think the answer will be yes because “they’re seeing there’s a way out of there,” even if bad weather can make it a bit sketchy.
After a long back-and-forth, the select board directed the highway crew to pay special attention to the open section of Mud City Loop, dealing with problems caused by winter or mud. The board also voted to hire Mumley to design a new structure and to produce estimates of construction and engineering costs.