Windsor — With a low-lying neighborhood at the bottom of Juniper Hill Road getting more marshy by the year, its increasingly uncomfortable residents are pointing fingers at an ineffective culvert, a lack of dredging, and beavers as the likely culprits.
In a move that drew criticism from a local animal advocacy organization, Windsor Town Manager Tom Marsh authorized a trapper to kill a population of beavers, but says more information is needed before serious consideration is given to adjusting the culvert, which directs water beneath Juniper Hill Road about a tenth of a mile from its intersection with Route 5.
The culvert helps to drain water from the town-owned Paradise Park to the Connecticut River.
Marsh said the town is gathering information to submit a formal request that the Vermont Agency of Transportation conduct a hydrology study of the area’s water movement.
It’s a step, but a slow one in a problem that’s been going on for decades, said Kevin McCabe, one of about 18 area residents who brought a 30-signature petition urging action on the issue to the Windsor Selectboard on June 28.
“The town says they want to fix it, but every time somebody tries to do something, they haven’t done it,” McCabe said.
When his family moved onto his property on Route 5 in the early 1980s, McCabe said, the land was much different. They played baseball in the backyard, the horse barn sat high and dry, and a small pond at the border of his property was home to a pair of spring ducks every year.
Today, the small pond is covered in a green scum, and McCabe no longer sees the ducks. The backyard they once played baseball in is sopping wet, and there are beavers gnawing down trees on his property. He said the water table is undermining the walls of his horse barn, and a storage area beneath is now so filled with sediment that he can no longer access a water switchoff valve there.
The town-installed culvert that runs beneath Juniper Hill Road, which Marsh said has been clogged by beavers, seems to be part of the issue. The location used to be the site of a culvert that lay beneath the water and sewer lines that run along the road; when that culvert collapsed, it was replaced by a culvert that lies as much as 5 feet higher, above the water and sewer line.
But Marsh said the landscape has changed so much that it would be impractical to dramatically lower the culvert, because sediment has filled in so much of the brook.
“If you look at the culvert now, the stream bottom is essentially up to the bottom of the culvert,” Marsh said.
The sediment, which took a major leap forward during Tropical Storm Irene, has also filled in a man-made drainage swale that residents built to drain the area, possibly as early as the 1930s. The drainage swale used to be dredged by its owners, but over the years, the property has changed hands, and the maintenance wasn’t kept up.
Another aggravating factor is nearby development.
“There’s a neighborhood that was put in, perhaps in the early ’80s, that I’m sure adds to the runoff,” Marsh said, “because there are more impervious surfaces.”
Another resident, Wesley Hrydziusko, said the influx of water has begun killing the mature pine trees that he used to log on a regular basis from a portion of his 16-acre property.
“I used to sell a load of logs every five years and get a new computer or something,” he said. “Now I can’t do anything. They’re dead and dying.”
Hrydziusko said he likes much of what the current administration has done for the broader Windsor community, but in this case, he thinks officials have developed a tin ear.
“It would be nice if the town officials would listen to their taxpayers a little bit,” he said.
In order to address the problem, Marsh authorized a trapper to trap and kill the beavers that have been building at the culvert.
In an effort to remove the need to kill the beavers, Sue Skaskiw of the Vermont Volunteer Services for Animals Humane Society commissioned an employee of the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife to install a beaver baffle that screened out the inside of the culvert.
A day later, Marsh ordered the baffle removed because, he said, the town had not authorized its installation.
Fish and Wildlife officials said they were looking into whether the employee had acted as an individual, or on behalf of the department.
Marsh said he didn’t believe the baffle would be effective, and that it was going to make the drainage problem worse by providing a new location for sediment to build up.
Skaskiw produced a short amateur documentary of the incident, which she aired on public access television and which highlighted footage of a young dead raccoon at the site that she said had gnawed its own leg off in an attempt to avoid the trap.
“The game warden provided us with best management practices for handling human beaver conflicts,” Marsh said.
He said that, because live trapping of beavers is not permitted under state regulations, he saw no alternative than lethal removal.
Skaskiw’s humane society also made an unusual offer to viewers of the documentary.
In the video, a text screen says the organization will pay $200 to anyone willing to submit themselves to a leghold trap for one hour. The person would need to sign a waiver and the organization would record the experience, according to the video.
Marsh said he expects the town’s formal request for the hydrology study to be complete by the end of the month.
Todd Menees, river management engineer in the Vermont Rivers Program of the Agency of Natural Resources, is helping the town to request the study from Vermont Agency of Transportation.
He said that, while the under-performing culvert seems to be a major contributing cause to the flooding, he’s also recommending that the town expand its approach by also considering two other culverts in the area.
“It’s not an easy fix and there are no guarantees, but they need to look at a holistic bigger picture,” Menees said.
If the study is carried out, he said, he hopes it will answer several outstanding questions about the water drainage, and whether any solution will work.
“What would need to be done, how much would it cost, who would pay for it, and would it be permitted?” he asked.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3211.