According to the court’s findings, on several occasions between October and December inspectors from the state found construction activity that was in excess of that allowed under Haystack’s “Low Risk Construction General Permits” issued by the state. Also on several occasions, inspectors or engineers reported “sediment laden” stormwater runoff from a construction site running into nearby streams. During one inspection, an environmental analyst with the Agency of Natural Resources Watershed Management Division found runoff flowing into an “unnamed tributary to Haystack Brook, a state water,” according to the court findings.
State officials warned Hermitage and Haystack personnel that the unauthorized work should cease on at least three occasions. During a December 12 inspection, according to the findings, ANR Environmental Analyst Ryan McCall spoke to Hermitage Club Vice President Bob Rubin, advising him that the work not authorized under their existing permits should stop. “At that time, he (Rubin) advised Mr. McCall that the work on the property would not stop unless directed to stop.”
According to a press release issued by the Hermitage Club, the development company was “operating with all permits in hand” except for the “Moderate Risk Construction General Permit” for Haystack, which they had applied for in August and had been told was forthcoming.
The permit was, in fact, issued within days of Durkin’s order, on December 20. According to Hermitage Club President Jim Barnes, the earth disturbance activities were only halted under the order for a few hours. “As earth work was already 95% complete, we basically stopped earth work for three hours, from 2 to 5 pm on December 19. Earth work resumed the next morning when the permit was issued.” Permitted construction was not halted, Barnes said.
The court’s findings also focused on a 1.25-mile snowmobile trail that runs through conservation land, in violation of the Hermitage Club’s Act 250 land use permit. The 27-acre conservation parcel is located on the south side of the ski area, just below the Gandalf lift. The land was set aside as part of the Act 250 agreement to conserve bear-scarred American beech, prime black bear habitat.
According to Environmental Commission District II assistant coordinator Stephanie Gile, who inspected the trail, it runs from Haystack, through the 27-acre conservation parcel, and continues into Green Mountain National Forest land. Last week, the National Forest Service closed a section of land between the conservation parcel and Haystack Pond to motor vehicle traffic because of the unauthorized trail construction.
Gile says the trail work was clearly recent, and was carried out despite clearly marked boundaries around the conservation land. She says the damage is significant. “In some areas, it’s as wide as 15 feet,” she says. “Some of it is pretty steep, with loose soil, and there aren’t any erosion controls.” Although snowmobile tours are permitted under the Hermitage Club’s Act 250 permit, construction of new trails was among several uses specifically not approved.
Judge Durkin’s order specifies that the Hermitage Club must “abandon the trail, and shall not use or allow any person to use any portion of the trail for any purpose” until all pertinent permits are obtained.
Barnes attributes the trail construction to unnamed individuals, and says the Hermitage isn’t seeking a permit to use it. “The trail work that was done by individuals through the conservation area is not part of the Hermitage permit process,” Barnes said. “The Hermitage currently does not have any plans for permitting this trail and is cooperating on this investigation.” The Forest Service continues to investigate the trail construction.