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Towns to share old road funds

The old Vermonter whowhen asked for directions on a backroadsaid, You cant get there from here, may have to change his tune. Now towns seeking to avoid conflicts over ancient roads have some legal directionthey will be getting some help in the form of state grants to help locate long-lost rural byways. A total of 15 Vermont towns will receive state grants totaling $75,000 to research and map ancient roads in an effort to resolve potential legal disputes over the sometimes forgotten roadways. The grants are result of a law agreed to by the legislature and Gov. Jim Douglas in 2006 to address the issue, which has the potential to complicate real estate transactions because of the impact of uncertain ownership on mortgages and titles. These funds will help towns research and map highways, trails, and unidentified corridors, said John Hall, Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Affairs. That will help inform their public review process as they determine whether these roadways should remain as town assets or revert to private ownership. Act 178 was a compromise between those who felt ancient roads should remain public assets, and those who believed the town should no longer retain public rights to unused lands that may not have been maintained or used as roads for years and that have been presumed by landowners to be privately held. The law allows towns to identify and add to their town highway map all town highways and trails that it decides to retain as a public right-of-way and establishes a public discontinuance process for roads that a towns legislative body determines are no longer desired as public rights-of-way. Towns have until July 1, 2009 to add unmapped town highways that lack physical evidence of their use onto their town highway map to keep those roads active. After that, unmapped highways become unidentified corridors that the town is not required to maintain and that will be discontinued on July 1, 2015 unless the town acts to reclassify the corridor as called for in existing law, a process that can include landowner compensation. Act 178 also lets towns that are satisfied with their existing highway map to effectively discontinue all roads that do not appear on those maps, following a process that includes public notice and public hearing. Voters or landowners can petition local officials to save highways from discontinuance or request that they designated as trails before July 1, 2009. Municipalities applying for grants up to a maximum of $5,000 were required to submit a plan for a public outreach and research process. To learn more about the program, see: www.dhca.state.vt.us/Planning/AncientRoadsGrantProgram.htm .

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