Board debates merits of Act 250 review
by Margo Avakian
Apr 23, 2014 | 4187 views | 0 0 comments | 88 88 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HALIFAX- Russell Denison’s proposal to develop a schist quarry on land near Deer Park Pond is moving into its next stage, the Act 250 application. Detailed site plans and a binder containing the application materials are now at the town office, available for review. Board member Earl Holtz suggested finding a way to make the materials reviewable on the town website as well. The District Environmental Commission has not yet announced a hearing date; it has asked the applicant for more information. Selectboard chair Lewis Sumner said he thinks a hearing date will not be set before the DEC deems the application complete.

Discussion centered on the selectboard’s role in the Act 250 process, rather than on any specifics of the application. Board member Edee Edwards strongly stated her belief that the board must act as representative for the interests of the town as a whole. Former selectboard chair John LaFlamme advised caution in exercising that role. “The board is the only party that can act as a mediator” should one be needed, LaFlamme said. Therefore board members should take care not to express any opinion on the application. Edwards said her personal opinion is distinct from the town’s interests; it is the latter she wants the board to represent actively.

Edwards also had some questions regarding ex parte communications, wondering whether her referring a resident to a source of answers to questions about the project constituted such an impermissible communication. Everyone agreed that it probably did not, though Cara Cheyette advised against even an appearance of an ex parte violation.

Cheyette herself was on the agenda, to talk about her experience as the town’s representative on the board of Rescue Inc., and to urge that Halifax not let its representation lapse. Cheyette agreed that the agency has been going through some transitions. The longtime chief stepped down; his position is being filled by a temporary chief.

There is also a new assistant chief, and the CFO resigned as well; billing is now done through an outside service. The Affordable Care Act has introduced changes in the way some things are done, and Rescue’s board is thinking about whether the agency should restructure itself or continue on the quasi-military model. Despite the changes and challenges, “The agency is stronger now than when I stepped in,” Cheyette said, praising the level of care provided.

Cheyette said that her resignation was prompted by a desire to move into an area of work that might potentially lead to a conflict of interest, or the appearance of a conflict. Because she has not begun that work as yet, and because she believes it important for the town to maintain its voice on the Rescue board, Cheyette offered to continue in the position on a temporary basis, while a replacement is sought. Cheyette and Holtz agreed that the new rep should ideally be a resident of the Thomas Hill area, the corner of town served by Rescue Inc. The service is important to those residents, as they cannot be easily or quickly reached by Deerfield Valley Rescue.

LaFlamme, who now serves as one of the town’s emergency management directors, told the board he has a problem with the way a drafted memorandum of understanding between the town and the volunteer fire department was handled. Edwards had, some time ago, offered to work up a draft for discussion and had done so. Ross Barnett, LaFlamme’s co-EMD, asked Edwards if he could see it, and she emailed it to him. It appears that Barnett, himself a member of the fire department, took the draft to them, bypassing LaFlamme altogether. LaFlamme had suggested the advisability of a formal agreement between the town and the fire department; the fire department building now contains the designated emergency operations center for the town, making a clear mutual understanding on several points necessary. Also, the impending shutdown of Vermont Yankee will generate a lot of changes in the preparation for and handling of emergencies.

The agreement, LaFlamme says, is now “a dead letter.” The fire department sent a brief memo to the selectboard rejecting the whole idea of a formal agreement. No specific issues were addressed in the memo, Holtz said, leaving the board to assume that a nostalgic yearning for the old, vague “handshake” culture is the primary reason for the rejection. LaFlamme, who regarded a formal agreement as a good thing for both parties, said he was severely disappointed. Nor, he said, did he appreciate being embarrassed by being left wholly out of the loop; he suggested that the way it was handled undermined the credibility of both his position and the agreement itself.

In other business, the board officially designated Branch Road as a “three rod road.” The Vermont Agency of Transportation needed to have confirmation of roadwidth before doing planned work on Route 112. A bridge over the North River joins Branch Road to that highway.

The board also discussed state highway grant applications with highway supervisor Bradley Rafus. Rafus hopes to get a structural grant to finish bridge #13 on Green River Road. He will also apply for a paving grant, but does not expect to get that, as Halifax just had its turn in the rotation for those grants. Rafus is also working on a Better Back Roads grant for work on Stark Mountain Road. Culverts need to be replaced, and some ditching and gravel are needed. Edwards asked whether Stark Mountain was badly damaged during Irene. “Not by Irene,” Rafus replied, but “we had to rebuild the upper half” after a previous flood. The old, narrow, rusting culverts could not be replaced at that time, because “FEMA wasn’t allowing us to upgrade.”

The board also signed construction contracts for the Old County North bridge. Town clerk Patricia Dow made an emergency “house call” to notarize the signing.
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