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An Electrifying Set of Meetings

In our last blog post, published just before 2023 drew to a close, we looked into the early history of the Bellows Falls Canal.  Completed in 1802, it is one of the first—some say it was the very first!—canals built in the United States.


We’ll continue our history of the canal later this month by exploring how the arrival of the railroad drove a transition from transporting goods through the canal to using its fast-flowing water to generate power.  Betsy has collected some fascinating photos of this period that we look forward to sharing with you.


Going Underground

Meanwhile, during the first several weeks of 2024 Betsy and I have been busy coordinating meetings for the Vermont Agency of Transportation with Canal Street and Rockingham Street property owners whose homes, businesses, and land will be impacted by the construction of the new Depot Street Bridge.


The first phase of construction, which will get underway two years from now in Spring 2026, will focus on undergrounding the Canal Street electrical and telecom lines between Exner Block on the south and the Bellows Falls Garage property on the north.  These aerial lines, which parallel the canal, currently connect to each property on Canal Street and run up to several Rockingham Street properties.


The following photograph, taken March 12, shows the aerial utility lines running south from the Bellows Falls Garage down Canal Street toward the Exner Block.  The area in the left foreground is just south of the location of the new Depot Street Bridge.

Two Questions

You may be wondering, Why are we putting all these utilities underground?  The answer is that the aerial lines have to be placed underground and the poles removed so that the cranes that will be needed to construct the new Depot Street Bridge (in 2027) and remove the old bridge (in 2028) can operate freely and safely.  The benefit to the town is the improved reliability of undergrounded lines and the opening up the view out toward the Island.


You may also be thinking to yourself, Wait, wasn’t the bridge project going to start next year?  Delays in the federal sign-off on the environmental review that precedes projects like this have compelled VTrans to push the project start date out a year to 2026.


Inspections First

Before undergrounding utilities can get underway, Green Mountain Power requires an inspection of each property to ensure that it is up to code.  VTrans is hiring Bellows Falls electricians Lawrence and Lober to conduct these inspections, which will get underway this Spring.


In total, we met with 17 property owners on Canal Street and Rockingham Street as well as with the management team at Great River Hydro.  We found each of these meetings so beneficial as we learned much about the history and local character of Canal Street, the Island, and downtown Bellows Falls, and we were able to document local concerns about the project and the proposed landscaping of the area post-construction.


And we ate well at the Flat Iron Cooperative, Moon Dog Café, and the Pizza Palace!  Our thanks to everyone who welcomed us into their daily lives for these discussions!


Jim Gish                                                                                                                  

Depot Street Bridge Project Community Liaison


Betsy Thurston

Executive Director, Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance


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