In our town, population 263, we don’t have much municipal infrastructure. There’s a Town Office and that’s about it.
Oh, except for the salt shed. Here in Guildhall, we don’t have our own road crew and we own no equipment or vehicles. Given our size, it makes more sense for the Town to outsource plowing and road maintenance to private contractors.
Back in 2007, however, the Town decided to appropriate money to build a structure for the storage and protection of the large amount of salt we use on our Class 2 and 3 roads. The salt shed, as it’s called, has a long and somewhat stormy (and sometimes amusing) history. Citizens voted to create a reserve fund for it in 2007, but the project languished until 2011, when the Road Commissioner Barbara Peaslee Smith lobbied hard to have the salt shed built on the Peaslee Farm. She and her husband Matt Smith were managing and overseeing the farm’s operations at the time.
That proposal was controversial, to say the least. Many of us felt it was unwise to intermingle municipal and private property in this way. Others were concerned about the appearance of a conflict of interest, given that the Road Commissioner was pushing the Town Selectboard to place a facility at the farm she managed, and therefore would stand to gain rental/lease money from the Town. At a straw vote taken of the assembled opinion, a majority of those present were opposed to the idea of it being at the farm. But the Selectboard voted to put it there anyway.
After Ms. Peaslee-Smith and her husband exited the farm and moved to Lancaster, the new manager and the owner Janice Peaslee came up with an idea that seemed to make sense. In 2013, they proposed to sell the land where the salt shed sat to the Town, at a discounted rate. That way, taxpayers wouldn’t have to expend money to move the damn thing, and it would be a town building sitting on town land. But for reasons that are not altogether clear, the Selectboard decided to reject the Peaslee offer and dismantle and reassemble the shed on a small parcel of Town-owned land near Elvina Allen’s house. This past winter was the first winter at the new location.
According to the budget presented in this year’s Town Report, the cost of moving the structure to the new site was over $31,000.
Flash forward to last month, when the Town Clerk Sam called to let me know that the roof of the salt shed had collapsed. Even worse, I later learned, there would be no insurance money to cover repairs, because the Selectboard had specifically declined to insure the structure.
I didn’t get a good look at the salt shed until last week. Until then, I had assumed it was just a minor dent. As you can see, the damage is more serious than that.
At last week’s Town Meeting, the problem of the salt shed was a major topic of discussion. It looks like we’ll probably have to shell out $60,000 or more to put it back up again properly. There’s no insurance money, and there’s no line item in the budget for it, so where the money is going to come from is anybody’s guess.
(By my calculations, this salt shed will have cost us a pretty penny when all is said and done: $25K from the initial reserve fund, $31K to move it, and if the estimate presented at Town Mtg was accurate, $60K to replace/repair it. That means approximately $116,000. Was it worth it for saving a bit of salt runoff?)