Attorney queried about quarry
by Margo Avakian
May 13, 2014 | 2750 views | 0 0 comments | 89 89 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HALIFAX- Determined to get all the town’s ducks in a row before Act 250 proceedings on a proposed schist quarry begin, the selectboard and planning commission held a joint special meeting on Thursday, May 1 to confer with town attorney Robert Fisher, with each other, and with interested citizens.

Selectboard member Edee Edwards led off, asking Fisher to clarify the boards’ roles and responsibilities. Fisher confirmed that the town is, by law, a party to the proceedings, as is the planning commission.

The two boards can work together, but are not required to. Each board, Fisher said, may concentrate on those aspects of the application that touch on its own concerns. As an example, Fisher suggested that road issues such as safety or maintenance are primarily the selectboard’s responsibility, while the planning commission would be concerned with possible environmental impacts. Both boards can request that conditions be placed on the permit to address major concerns and to ensure conformity with the town plan.

Fisher advised the boards that the issue of adverse impacts from traffic is one of the few criteria for which the burden of proof does not rest on the applicant. “Would the town be responsible for doing a safety study?” Edwards asked. “Yes,” Fisher replied.

The status of the town’s volunteer fire department and of local emergency medical services is less clear-cut, Fisher said. They are private agencies, but the town contracts with them or contributes in other ways to their expenses. None of the agencies, Fisher noted, is “a party by right,” but they can apply for party status. In any case, they can and should make known any concerns they might have with the proposed project, he said, adding that such concerns could legitimately be presented as “town concerns.” Edwards said she would ensure the agencies were informed and given access to the application materials.

“Can we request a site visit?” Edwards asked. “They will do a site visit,” Fisher replied, which the boards and other parties can attend. Fisher warned the boards that all communications should be directed to the district coordinator, not to members of the district commission.

A number of citizens had questions for Fisher. “Is economic impact a criterion?” asked Rick Gay. In general, said Fisher, it is. “The fact that there’s no economic benefit to Vermont or to Halifax, does that hold any water?” Gay pressed. “You can make the argument,” Fisher replied temperately.

Another citizen asked whether the quarry developers could be required to dig a well for fighting forest fires. Fisher said that forest fires would be a suitable topic for a discussion of conditions. The fire department, he added, would be the proper source of advice on the best method, which might be a pond rather than a well.

Maggie Bartenhagen said that a sedimentation pond is planned for the project. Her concern was that the pond might be protected only by “the equivalent of a snow fence.” Given evidence that local youth sometimes party on the lumber landlings located on the property, Bartenhagen worried that the pond could present a danger. Nick Bartenhagen asked if the town would be liable for any injury at the pond if it does not address the adequacy of the fence. “No,” Fisher replied; “it’s private property.”

Paul Taylor asked how “light industry” is defined, vs. “heavy industry.” Fisher said the first place to look would be the town plan or zoning regulation. The Agency of Natural Resources website, Fisher said, has commentaries on past cases indexed in its enotes section; those commentaries might shed light on how light and heavy industry has been defined in previous proceedings.

“Who determines whether an Army Corps of Engineers wetlands permit is required?” Taylor asked. Fisher said there are both state and federal rules covering such considerations as how much wetland would be disturbed by the project. The Corps officials responsible for this area, Fisher said, are very competent and diligent.

Other questions included noise impact on neighbors, which Fisher said is among the criteria the district commission will consider, and any positive or negative effect on surrounding property values, which he said is more speculative and not likely to be considered.

Asked about enforcement, Fisher said that bigger projects are usually monitored. While the proposed quarry might be considered a “medium project” in itself, it is, Fisher said, a big one for Halifax. “Enforcement people talk to each other,” he added; a problem found in one area will trigger attention to other areas.

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