By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 – Telegraph Publishing LLC
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.
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.
“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.
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.