July 30, 2019 @ The Fox Free Library
Approximately 45 participants and ten accompanying children attended the session. Participants included three select board members, a regional planner, and representatives of Castleton University, 350VT, Rutland Area NAACP, and Rights & Democracy. Refreshments, child care, and $20 stipend were noted as very helpful elements in ensuring diverse, cross-sectional participation. The event lasted two hours and was guided by the following agenda:
- Refreshments & Dinner, Informal Mingling
- Introductions: Where do you feel most welcome in Rutland?
- Overview of Environmental Justice & Scope of Work
- Small Group Discussion I: What are the key environmental and health issues of concern to your communities related to… Quality of Life? Health Impacts? Disaster Resiliency?
- Large Group Report Out I
- Small Group Discussion II: How do you get the information and resources you need to address an environmental or health concern? Do you feel this is adequate? What opportunities do you see to increase community access to information and resources? To improve community health?
- Large Group Report Out II
- Looking Ahead, Timeline & Closing
*The following summarized comments are the opinions and observations of participants of the July 30th Community Conversation in Rutland:
Air pollution from pesticides and transportation (including the train and diesel buses) are areas of concern for Rutland residents. Community members were surprised to learn of Rutland’s low air quality ranking in the state.
Limited transportation in Rutland leads to less fresh food access, less social/community gatherings, difficulty accessing health care.
Rutland lacks an adequate bus system to service outer residential communities. The current bus system uses diesel buses, charges more for rides in outer communities than in downtown, does not travel to many doctor’s offices, does not accommodate bariatric wheelchairs, and does not run frequently enough for weekend commuters.
Most people use personal cars and there are no reliable options for carpooling apps because of low users and lack of cell service. The heavy reliance on cars contributes to noise pollution, traffic, and air pollution.
Many sidewalks are in poor or unusable condition and are not maintained throughout the winter, decreasing the walkability of the city. There are no bike lanes in the city and electric bikes are very expensive to use.
Rutland has a high rate of sewage spills (19 in the last year). Water quality concerns such as algae blooms threaten aquatic life in Rutland area rivers and ponds. Water quality at Rutland schools is a major concern. Residents are aware that fluoride is added to their water but do not know if they have lead in their water. Some residents use a water filter for potential contaminants, but generally they are not aware of the status of their residential water quality.
Housing was cited as the number one issue affecting the people of Rutland. Housing and rental prices are increasing while quality decreases. Many residents seek housing assistance or affordable housing but struggle accessing services in a timely manner due to waitlists and lengthy application processes. Families are forced into small apartments that do not meet their needs, choosing safe neighborhoods over more affordable houses. Homelessness is on the rise. Isolation in housing is a major concern amongst the aging population.
Barriers to securing safe and adequate housing include:
- Credit History
- Landlord references
- First and last month’s rent, plus security deposit
When affordable housing is secured, residents find it to be substandard and struggle with understanding their Rights as renters. Landlords may charge extra fees for damage outside “reasonable wear and tear” but this term is loosely defined and has potential for abuse. Landlords do not undergo frequent inspection from the state to ensure they are meeting their duties to their renters such as lead paint abatement, water quality testing, and timely maintenance.
People recently released from prison are generally placed in transitional housing the Northwest Neighborhood of Rutland, causing them to struggle further with transportation and job acquisition.
Safety at school is a major concern for the people of Rutland. Indoor air quality and water quality are areas of concern as well as the potential for violence. There is a noted lack of diversity and cultural resources and education throughout Rutland, acutely felt in the public schools.
Access to higher education is limited (only COV and Castleton) and it is difficult to fill higher-educated jobs with members of the community.
Opioid abuse is prevalent, the area behind Walmart is referred to as “the gut” and is littered with used paraphernalia. While some residents expressed satisfaction with the area hospital and their asthma program, others lamented the specialists were hard to find, causing them to travel to Burlington or Dartmouth. Lack of reliable transportation makes doctors appointments difficult to keep. Doctors in the area also lack diversity sensitivity training, effectively isolating minority communities seeking health services.
Garbage and pollution in ponds, rivers and along highways cause water quality issues. Unofficial, unregulated junkyards exist throughout the more poor and rural areas of Rutland where car batteries, recycling waste, and oil tanks are buried.
Food, housing, and recreation are considered expensive by Rutland residents. Sports activities and the town pool are services Rutland residents are appreciative of but feel are cost prohibitive. Residents want more free recreation opportunities.
Flooding from severe storms are an issue for mobile home communities and vulnerable roadways in Rutland. There is an effort to map Otter Creek to show where future impacts could occur. The railroad is hazardous because it is immune to certain regulations when it rains.
The food shelves in Rutland are perceived as inadequate to members of the community. There is a very limited amount of fresh food available at the food pantry, and low income community members experience increased health risks due to lack of fresh food access. There are many food deserts and “dead zones” in Rutland, and people may not know how to apply for EBT. The Veggie Van Gogh program allows community members to pick up fresh food once a week but lack of transportation to the pick up site is a barrier to participating in this program.
Equal Access to Information & Resources
The people of Rutland struggle to find accurate information regarding community services and have no clear path of accessing those services. Residents say they often start researching public programs by google-ing for information, but are frustrated to not have one common site or source for the information they seek. Information on services is shared mostly through word of mouth, however some folks are reticent to share personal details and therefore never hear about or apply for services. Many community members expressed frustration with town and city officials over their lack of consistent and accurate knowledge of local, state, and federal systems and programs.
Summary of Feedback (all feedback available here)
What Worked Well…
- “Accessible language, inclusion of timeline feels like we are in it together.”
- “I found this so informative. It was great to be able to brainstorm with people from different experiences. I feel the small group discussion was great and not intimidating.”
- “I would like a way to let my problems be heard. I feel that I have something to say worth being listened to, and this experience helped me feel more included while hearing others’ wishes and needs. I hope I will know of future meetings.”
- “You did a good job of bringing together diverse age, economic, and racial segments of our community.”
- “Great input. We need more community meetings like this.”
- “Great process – ‘You are the experts.’” (Reference to facilitation team emphasizing the community members as experts on their experience in Rutland.)
What Could Be Improved…
- “I like the format and the willingness to hear what issues come up, however I think that it would be good to try to emphasize the environmental justice, as the topics seemed to stray from environmental concerns.”
- “Having more time to have deeper discussions would have made the evening even better. Having more community representatives would have been great, too.”
- “Worry – good conversation but it shouldn’t stop here. How to follow up not just generally but with these participants.”