Chester board votes to appeal Act 250 permit conditions

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 – Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Chester Select Board does its post-election reorganizing while attorney Jim Goss looks on. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

On Monday, the Chester Select Board met in executive session with a Rutland attorney and decided to appeal conditions of the recent Act 250 permit that allows the town to build a new water tank but severely restricts where the town can extract gravel on the land, purchased last year from Mike and Amy O’Neil.

Last week, a Motion to Alter the permit that was filed in mid-January was rejected by the District 2 Environmental Commission.

In January 2016, the town made an Act 250 application to construct the water tank and transmission line. The application was considered “incomplete” and the town had to work out an agreement with state Department of Fish & Wildlife regarding deer wintering habitat that was compromised by the previous owners and never reclaimed.

The district commission held a hearing and, rather than making the town fix the violation before siting the tank, it allowed the work to go forward but it placed more stringent restrictions on future development than those agreed to by Fish & Wildlife. 

The purchase of the land – in part for an inexpensive source of gravel that could help pay for needed improvements to the municipal water system – began to take shape in another executive session on Nov. 19, 2014. The Telegraph challenged that the session as illegal. Monday’s meeting fell under the exemption for receiving confidential legal advice and was legal.

The public portion of the meeting began with the post-election reorganizing that saw Arne Jonynas become chairman, replacing John DeBenedetti who did not run for re-election. (Jonynas had run for DeBenedetti’s three-year term.) The board then heard comments from Chester residents Barre Pinske and Bill Lindsay.

Pinske passes around a tablet showing a satellite photo of the 139-acre site where the town had hoped to extract gravel.

Showing a satellite image on his computer tablet, Pinske pointed to how many trees were in that area versus how little land humans used.  “We’re people and we need gravel roads,” said Pinske noting that he had seen a gold mine on television where huge chunks were taken out of the ground, to be restored later.

“We can restore nature back to the way it was, sometimes even better,” said Pinske.  “Deer don’t do well in our forests because they don’t have the underbrush. We could get the gravel and put it back for the deer.”

Pinske urged the board to go forward with the appeal.

Former board member Bill Lindsay also asked the board to approve the appeal to maintain town dirt roads less expensively.

Lindsay tells the board it needs to move forward with the appeal to extract the gravel.

“You’ve got 100 miles of road,” said Lindsay. “And that’s 100 miles up and 100 miles down. Years ago, the town had the opportunity to buy a gravel pit, but personal issues got in the way so it didn’t happen.”

Lindsay went on to say that the town needed its own source of gravel nearby to protect taxpayers and that Act 250 got looser during Irene. “It’s interesting that during (Tropical Storm) Irene, the state could be nice and let the gravel pits reopen and then go back to being strict.”

Lindsay told the board it should fold the reclamation costs for the area disturbed during Irene into the cost of the water project and move forward. “Get on with this and save money for the taxpayers.”

The board went into executive session for about half an hour with Rutland attorney Jim Goss, author of the Motion to Alter that was rejected by the District 2 Environmental Commission. When they exited the closed door confab, the board voted unanimously “to authorize an appeal of the denial of the Motion to Alter the Act 250 decision in 2So214-8 to the Environmental Division.”

According to Jonynas, the deadline to file the appeal is April 5 and Goss believes that it will go very smoothly. He added that it is expected to cost around $15,000. By comparison, Goss’s two page Motion to Alter was billed at a little more than $1,800, at $290 per hour.

On Tuesday, Town Manager David Pisha said that the Select Board hopes that an agreement could be reached with the Natural Resources Board, which administers Act 250, before it ends up in court.

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About the Author: Shawn Cunningham has written a number of subjects -- from food and wine to film, history, politics, zoning and development -- for the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post, Museum News, The Westsider, The Chelsea/Clinton News, Menckeniana, Films in Review and the East Village Eye.

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  1. Elise Junker says:

    It is my understanding there are three other gravel pits located on the west side of the town. Have any of these been considered to supply the town?

  2. Barre Pinske says:

    Tim, David Pisha has the numbers. He rattled them off to me but I don’t remember them to quote him. Obviously there could be more or less gravel. The cost of dealing with the State will reduce the profit, but from what I understand there is a lot of room there before that’s detrimental. In my opinion, getting this done and properly restoring the ground can set a new precedent for our town and could open other doors in the future. We can become a good example for other towns.

    I wish more folks in town would stop looking at who’s on the other side of a pay day and respect business as what business is. It’s about making money. Do we try to keep people from making money or do we help each other and our town so we all can enrich all our lives? Successful people who like their communities can be helpful in other ways; helping restore historic buildings, supporting events and incubator projects. We need good relationships.

    I like that Tim mentioned an environmental prospective. He’s correct less distance is less fuel, less ware and tear on our trucks. It’s all good. I urge members of our community to support this project. We need gravel. It’s like eating a hamburger. There is a lot that goes into making that burger possible. It’s not all pleasant. We order it and eat it. We don’t think about it. It sustains us.

    We start our cars and drive down the road. It’s seems easy but there’s more to it. You need to disrupt land for a period of time. Yet getting dirt out of the ground in one place and putting it some place else is way less dramatic than making hamburger.

    We are at the top of the food chain and the top species. Let’s do things wisely for our planet but let’s not be stupid. Driving to Walpole and paying a premium for gravel is not helping us or the planet. We can use the gravel and make the best deer wintering area than anyone has seen! It can be a win-win.

  3. Tim Roper says:

    This is a good move for our town. I’m happy to see that the Select Board has taken a strong position as demonstrated by its unanimous vote to appeal the decision by the Act 250 board. Does anyone have a figure for what the potential savings will be to the taxpayers if we’re able to extract our own gravel as opposed to trucking it in from somewhere else? I’m thinking that number would be pretty substantial.

    We’ll also reduce the carbon footprint of our gravel by getting it locally, which is something the Act 250 board should take into account as they consider the appeal.

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