Potential biomass traffic alarms Select Board; board responds to SoVerA letter

By Karen Zuppinger

Speaking at the Chester Select Board meeting on Wednesday, March 20, Tom Kennedy, of the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission, addressed the board’s concerns about the amount of truck traffic that may be driving through Chester as a result of a biomass plant proposed for North Springfield.

Chairman John DeBenedetti said according to information he has received, the increase in traffic could rise from 28 percent to a high of 64 percent of what it is today. “Where do we get the money to maintain the additional wear and tear on the roads?” he asked.

The Rutland Herald recently reported that a Public Service Board revealed that “there may be up to 240 trips (120 round trips) per day traveling on Routes 11 and 103 and carrying a maximum load of 30 tons of wood chips from the proposed plant.”

According to the biomass application, a Route 103 study the applicants conducted in 2011 found the daily average of vehicle trips to be 4,200. The study was conducted in the Stone Village.

During the Select Board meeting, Kennedy said that, according the survey done by the Vermont Agency of Transportation and backed up by his commission’s findings, the roads could handle the additional traffic. He added that the planning commission is negotiating certain parameters with the Winstanley Enterprises, the biomass applicant, including the hours that the trucks could operate as well as disbursing traffic to other roads and exits. But at the end of the day, he said, they have little control on who uses public highways. He added that once the biomass plant is up and running, any future development would be subject to Act 250.

In response to a question on VTrans methodology, Kennedy said that he did not know how it conducted its survey but that many times they are based on computer models.

Board member Tom Bock said that he believes that there are too many unknowns, all of which would negatively impact Chester. He wanted to know if there was anything that the board could do to further address its concerns.

Kennedy suggested that the board have its attorney contact the applicant’s attorney and perhaps work out an agreement.

Board responds to SoVerA;  still open to observatory

The Select Board reacted to a recent letter sent by the Southern Vermont Astronomy Group withdrawing its proposal to locate an astronomical observatory at the Pinnacle in Chester. Citing what it believed was a change of heart by the Select Board to commit the necessary funds to construct the project coupled with a time delay, SoVerA withdrew the offer and decided to site the building on private land. SOVERA

Select Board member Arne Jonynas said that while he didn’t like the “tone” of the letter, he thought there was still room for negotiation, and would like to see the observatory come to town.

DeBenedetti said he was confused by the letter, and was operating under the assumption that the project was still very much alive. “Perhaps the board was moving too slowly,” he said. “But I thought that we were about to sit down and enter into some sort of memorandum of agreement.”

Other board members said that they would like to pursue the option of having the observatory in Chester and would be in contact with SoVerA to see if an agreement is still a possibility. Take the Telegraph Poll: An observatory for Chester?

Reached on Monday, SoVerA President Claudio Veliz said that no one on the Select Board had yet contacted him.  But, he added, town manager David Pisha called last week to inquire whether the observatory had changed hands yet and to remind Veliz that if it will be on private land, he needed to make sure that proper forms are filled out.

 Fire truck lease OK’d, planning commission vacancy, Village Center designation

  • The board also  voted unanimously to enter into a three-year lease for a new fire truck. The initial cost of the truck is $254,657, minus $8,000 for trade-in of the old truck and a pre-payment discount of $4,004, bringing the final cost to $242,653. With an interest rate of 2.59%, the annual cost of the truck will be $85, 110.54. At the end of the lease, the town will own the truck. The new fire truck is due to be delivered within 210 days from March 21.
  • Select board member Bock, who also serves as chair of the Chester Planning Commission, said that the commission wanted him to ask the board if it could get moving on addressing the Unified Development By-laws. He said that while he understood that it had 120 days to get them back, the commission was concerned that it could drag out to over a year if nothing was done soon. The board said that it would try to add it to its agenda in sections over time beginning at its next meeting  — which begins at 7 p.m., Wednesday April 3. The commission also is seeking to fill a vacancy. Anyone interested in filling the seat can contact town manager David Pisha at 875-2173.
  • A breakfast to discuss the possible Village Center Designation is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. April 23 at the Fullerton Inn. Marji Graf, of the Okemo Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce, will be on hand to discuss the pros and cons of a Designated Village Center. Business owners are invited to attend.
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About the Author: Karen Zuppinger in a freelance writer and Chester resident. Her work has appeared in Vermont Magazine and Assisi's Online Journal of Arts and Letters. She is a winner of America's Best Short Fiction Award.

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