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Fire destroys Winhall’s town garage

Puts plows out of commission, town seeks snow removal help from neighbors

The town of Winhall lost two of its plow trucks and had two road graders heavily damaged following a two-alarm fire on Jan. 20 that destroyed the town garage on Old Town Road.

According to Keene Mutual Aid, the first alarm was called in at about 10 p.m., and a second alarm was struck shortly after.

WCAX News reported that, according to Winhall Police Chief Jeffrey Whitesell, the fire may have started in a dump truck before spreading to the rest of the metal building.

The fire is not considered suspicious, but Winhall, a Bennington County town that sits on the western border of Windham County, suddenly found itself without a functioning public works department.

The town put out a call to neighboring towns through the Vermont Local Roads List Serve to see if there were any spare trucks or equipment so the town continue its snow removal operations.

Brattleboro Public Works Director Steve Barrett said the List Serve, which is run by the Vermont Agency of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, acts as a mutual aid system for town highway departments.

“They notified all the road superintendents in the area [Tuesday] morning,” said Barrett. “We haven’t got anything to spare right now, since we’re dealing with some breakdowns ourselves, but we’re ready to offer some help when we can.”

Barrett said he’s a “big fan” of the Vermont Local Roads program. “If I have a problem or a question, I can reach out to the entire state. A lot of towns around the state are seeing the need for cooperation, because it makes everyone’s job easier.”

At press time, the Selectboard was scheduled to meet to make plans for snow removal if a storm arrives before it can secure plowing alternatives.

Being prepared

Barrett said what Winhall is going through is every road superintendent’s worst nightmare. But he said that Brattleboro does have a contingency plan should something like this happen here.

The first step would be a mutual aid request through the Local Roads Program. Second, the town would contact local equipment vendors to see if they had in trade-ins or used equipment available on their sales lots. Finally, the town would seek additional help from the private contractors it already uses for snow removal and other projects.

“The biggest questions would be how much service would you be able to provide under those circumstances,” Barrett said. “You would have to concentrate on the main roads and anything that would affect public safety. It would be hard to do much more than that.”

Winhall, which encompasses the village of Bondville and most of the Stratton Mountain Ski Resort, lies between Jamaica and Manchester. It has a full-time population of roughly 700 people, and 47 miles of town roads and state highways. Routes 11 and 30, two of the main east-west state highways in southern Vermont, intersect on the western edge of town.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #238 (Wednesday, January 22, 2014). This story appeared on page A5.

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