Halifax meeting full of schist: quarry and interim zoning
by Margo Avakian
Mar 25, 2014 | 3345 views | 0 0 comments | 88 88 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HALIFAX- A proposal by Russell Denison to reopen an old schist quarry on his 1,200 acre property off Jacksonville Stage Road has raised a host of questions for the town and for a number of concerned residents. The bulk of the discussion at Tuesday night’s selectboard meeting was devoted to identifying and articulating at least some of those questions.

The discussion was led by newly elected board chair Lewis Sumner. Earl Holtz was elected vice chair.

Board member Edee Edwards presented a draft letter designed to respond to a request from Denison’s attorneys for a municipal impact statement, required as part of the Act 250 process. Edwards’ lengthy and comprehensive draft included every possible area of concern. Some felt that it included unnecessary items, but Edwards insisted that the Act 250 process “is our chance to get these questions out there.” If some of the issues prove irrelevant or unproblematic, so much the better, Edwards said, but the questions should be asked.

The quarry would be located a little east of Deer Park Pond, and stone would be trucked out using an existing logging road which runs up to Old Stage Road. One question the board could answer is whether an access permit will be required where the logging road joins Old Stage; it will, as that section of Old Stage is a class 4 town highway. It was noted during the discussion that the town crew has been plowing a short section of the class 4 road. Happy to eliminate any unnecessary road work, the board directed highway supervisor Bradley Rafus to cease plowing that section.

Questions that could not be answered at this time include possible impacts related to water and soil quality; fire, police, and emergency services; and solid waste disposal (specifically schist dust). Of particular concern to the board is the “viability” of the proposed truck route over Amidon and Stark Mountain roads. Stark Mountain is a steep, narrow, winding road with a sharp drop-off and no guard rails. Edwards expressed concern over possible road damage and safety, particularly for private vehicles encountering the delivery trucks. Rafus told the board that the tri-axle truck that will probably be used “will do less damage than the town truck.” Ross Barnett added, “If you’re worried about meeting trucks, then the town shouldn’t be buying tandems.”

Sumner said that he would not be prepared to discuss any of the issues in detail until he had a chance to read the draft and give it a lot of thought. Edwards will send copies to her fellow board members.

A number of residents attended in support of a petition, signed by about 50 people, urging the selectboard to impose interim zoning that would “protect the town” from any harmful impacts from the quarry operation itself and from possible litigation. Sue Kelly suggested that the “flawed (zoning) documents” the town is currently operating under raised risks of liability. Sirean LaFlamme, of the planning and zoning boards, told the assembled residents that the planning commission had taken the matter up the previous week, following a deliberative session on another matter. “We voted it down,” LaFlamme said. “We’re redoing the whole zoning regulation, and we don’t want to spend time on one (project-specific) section.”

Much of the debate centered on the question of whether it is even possible for the selectboard to impose interim zoning without adhering to the normal public hearing process required for adoption of permanent zoning. Statute 24 (V.S.A., 4415) suggests not, but Maggie Bartenhagen, the town’s co-representative to the Windham Regional Commission, said that she has been told the selectboard can, in fact, act outside of the usual process. Holtz said that, assuming the board could take action to prevent harm from an existing defect in the law, he had heard no specific defect or proposed remedy. Most of those present had spoken only generally of “inconsistencies” between the zoning regulations and the town plan. Holtz said he would be prepared to consider a more specific proposal. Edwards said she was advised by the town attorney that the board could incur some risk of liability by rushing into interim zoning. She repeated her statement made at last week’s planning commission meeting that she feels the normal process for amending zoning is much preferable, especially as that process is just now getting underway.

Bartenhagen asked everyone to Google Ashfield Stone, the firm that would be operating the quarry, should it be permitted, in order to see what might be coming to Halifax. Sumner said that Vermont has much stricter environmental laws than Massachusetts. Orrin Isles agreed, saying, “I’ve opened gravel pits in both Vermont and Massachusetts, and it’s a hundred times harder in Vermont.” But, Isles added, while strict conditions may be imposed under Vermont law, enforcement is another matter altogether. Sumner agreed that there is a dearth of enforcement staff.

In other business, the board made appointments for the coming year. Brian McNiece and Bill Pusey were reappointed to their respective positions on the planning and zoning boards; Ross Barnett was reappointed as tree warden. Leonard Derby will continue as animal control officer and as citation issuer, and Pusey as town service officer. Maggie and Nick Bartenhagen will again serve as WRC reps; Sumner continues as recycling co-ordinator and as the rep to Windham Solid Waste Management, with Cliff Inman as alternate. Barnett and John LaFlamme were reappointed co-emergency management directors; Everett Wilson as ADA coordinator, and Wayne Corser as E911 coordinator. Taralee Lane continues as Green Up Vermont coordinator, and Sue Kelly as town health officer.

Because more people expressed interest in serving on the planning commission, a position the board has often had to beat bushes and twist arms to fill, Marilyn Allen asked if the board would consider expanding the planning/zoning boards. Edwards said that the board was reduced in size due to problems in getting a quorum, and that she would prefer to let the current arrangement continue for more than a few months before considering changing it again. Holtz encouraged everyone who expressed interest in the job to attend planning commission meetings as residents and offer the board their support and aid in the coming year.

The board also voted to award the construction oversight contract for the Old County North bridge to Holden Engineering and to have Holtz and Ed Gay assist with oversight.

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