Vermonters claim Vilas Bridge over Connecticut River

Emily Peyton (right), Mike Smith and Torin Brooks (left) stand on a barricade before reciting a declaration claiming the Vilas Bridge for the state of Vermont on Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Kayla Rice/BrattleboroReformer

Emily Peyton (right), Mike Smith and Torin Brooks (left) stand on a barricade before reciting a declaration claiming the Vilas Bridge for the state of Vermont on Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Kayla Rice/Brattleboro Reformer

Editor’s note: This article is by Domenic Poli of the Brattleboro Reformer, in which it was first published April 2, 2014.

BELLOWS FALLS — The Vilas Bridge now belongs to Vermont, if you ask a certain group of citizens.

A handful of people took to the 635-foot-long structure Tuesday afternoon to “claim” it as property of Vermont, citing a stipulation in New Hampshire state law. Mike Smith, Bellows Falls Trustee Andrew Smith, Jake Stradling, Emily Peyton and the Rev. Torin Brooks convened on the bridge to read a public statement and post a declaration stating it now belongs to their state.

The Vilas Bridge, built around 1930 as a “Symbol of Friendship” between Vermont and New Hampshire, spans the Connecticut River to connect Bellows Falls with Walpole, N.H., and was closed to vehicular traffic in 2009. A semi-annual inspection found continued deterioration of the reinforced bridge deck. A reported average of 4,600 vehicles crossed the structure each day at the time of the closure and Bellows Falls residents and merchants say business in the village is suffering because the traffic has been severed. Many have grown frustrated that efforts to repair the bridge have been delayed due to lack of funds.

Another bridge stands less than a mile away to carry people and vehicles between the states.

Brooks stood on the bridge Tuesday afternoon sporting a tricorne hat resembling the ones wore during the American Revolution and Mike Smith brought with him a Flag of the Green Mountain Boys. The two stood on concrete barriers that prohibit vehicles from crossing the bridge before the group of citizens present walked to the New Hampshire side to post their declaration claiming the bridge as property of Vermont.

“Now it’s Vermont’s bridge, as far as I’m concerned,” Brooks said after duct-taping two copies of the declaration. “I really hope, through all this, they really do something with this bridge — because it’s just sad that they won’t.”

The Vilas Bridge over Bellows Falls gorge. Photo by Chris Bertelsen/Brattleboro Reformer

The Vilas Bridge over Bellows Falls gorge. Photo by Chris Bertelsen/Brattleboro Reformer

Peyton, a Putney resident and gubernatorial candidate, attended the event to show her support.

“I’m very proud of our ‘Green Mountain Boys 2.0′ for combining citizen action with audacity and humor and stepping up with a new form of leadership I’d like to see all around the state,” she said.

Brooks told the Reformer that claiming the bridge for Vermont was obviously a publicity stunt, but said it was one he hopes will bring attention to what Rockingham residents consider a very serious issue.

“The last five years, this bridge has been shut down, it’s been abandoned, and according to New Hampshire state law, if a property’s been abandoned for five years, it can be claimed by someone with just cause,” he said. “If they don’t want to fix it, let somebody else fix it.”

Brooks said the New Hampshire state statute he was referring to is found in Chapter 471-C, titled “Custody and Escheat of Unclaimed and Abandoned Property.” According to the website of the Treasury of New Hampshire, the “Unclaimed Property Act provides for the identification, recovery, and safeguard of dormant accounts or forgotten properties and their return to the rightful owner(s).” The website states most property types are presumed abandoned or unclaimed if there is not recorded activity for five years.

The website also states anyone with a desire to claim a property must file a claim form and present documentation to establish his or her identity and ownership of the property.

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office did not return a phone call or e-mail asking for elaboration and clarification on the state statute.

Brooks and Stradling said they intended to send a video of the demonstration to every state and federal legislator in both Vermont and New Hampshire.

When asked if he was expecting a larger turnout, Brooks said he wanted to keep it small.

“If 150 people show up on the bridge, they’re going to have a fit about it,” he said.

Domenic Poli can be reached at [email protected]; or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow Domenic on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.

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  • The article does not appear to indicate who those involved in the bridge takeover expect to repair the bridge and then pay the bills to cover the repairs. Are they willing to use their own funds or do they expect Vermont taxpayers to foot the bill to have it fixed and put back into working order?

    If however, the State of New Hampshire should decide to either declare war or, rather and more than likely could prove to be the case, file suit in federal court against those involved, it is hoped that these persons or the group involved will defend Vermont and themselves on their own and not expect others to have to do so on what would be their behalf.

    It could well be that NH will end up having the last laugh concerning these matters, not the tiny group whose folly happened to play out on April Fools Day; including because if NH wins a settlement or court case against them, then whatever the plaintiffs are awarded after legals fees might help pay for fixing the bridge.

    That is unless most if not all the powers to be in NH decide to simply ignore them much like will probably be the case here in Vermont as well.

    Since there absolutely is nothing whatsoever newsworthy to report regarding what was a public nuisance er, public relations event of epic silliness, this leaves one to about why the Brattleboro Reformer and then vtdigger opted to devote space for an article about it, save for it being a rather slow news day

    By the way, speaking of which, a belated April Fools Day to everyone!


    • i.e.,

      … after legal fees …

      Since there is absolutely nothing …

    • i.e., … this leaves one to question why the Brattleboro Reformer and then vtdigger opted …

  • Ed fisher

    How symbolic , kind of like the government , state and federal, taking over the health care system . Something totally broken and almost unusable and claiming ownership for what ? To now pay for repairs to the bridge ….. and tax dollars to do it ?

  • I’ve been standing for days in front of the Bellows Falls Post Ofice, near the bridge, and I have seen quite a few large students groups of young children and teachers going over to the bridge to look at it since the April 1st video was released on the internet.

    I’ve been collecting ballot access petition signatures for myself as an independent candidate, and people who use the Bellows Falls Post Office include people in Saxtons River. The people in Saxtons River state that they are the most hurt by the bridge -over-the-Connecticut River closing because they often go shopping in New Hampshire to buy things not available locally to them, and instead of crossing the bridge and going the fastest route as the hawks fly, through Bellows Falls to get back to Saxtons River, they have to drive 4 miles up to the next bridge over the Connecticut River and then back down.

  • Paul Lorenzini

    Striping the populace of an avenue to make things more affordable is the impetus behind the bridge closing.

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