Gravel pit owner challenges Chester figures; Select Board OKs town vote on water project

CORRECTION: The Chester Telegraph incorrectly reported in this article that Dupont Storage, which manufactures efficient movable shelving units, had cut its price for new shelves in the Town Hall vault by $259. In fact, the price was cut by $934.

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2015 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

At its April 15 meeting, the Chester Select Board heard an update on the Yosemite Fire House, received a new and lower price on a moveable shelving system for the Town Hall vault and signed off on emergency management plans, but the main topics once again were gravel and water.

Water Superintendent Jeff Holden speaks about the need for the water project. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Water Superintendent Jeff Holden speaks about the need for the water project. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Before the board could even get to it on the agenda, Larry Semones and Douglas Adams asked to speak about gravel during the public comment time. Semones told the board that he found the public discussion misleading, noting that documents prepared by Town Manager David Pisha compared the costs of transporting gravel from the O’Neil property behind Green Mountain High School with the costs of hauling from the Cold River pit 20 miles away in Walpole, N.H.

Semones – who is an owner of a pit near the Chester/Andover line – told the board that there are several gravel pits in and near Chester but obtaining gravel from Walpole is what the public is being told is the alternative. “Walpole is misleading, that’s what people are understanding,” said Semones, “that’s what they’re getting from Town Hall.”

Semones also challenged Pisha’s take on the timing and expense of the Act 250 process. “The numbers you have in here don’t come close to what we had on a new pit,” said Semones, who told the board that the process took two years and “substantially more money” than budgeted in the town’s business plan. “I think this document is very misleading,” he said.

Water Superintendent Jeff Holden told the board and those in attendance that gravel is muddying up the issue. He said the town needs to do the water project in the most economical way and  the project will only get more expensive in the future. “It’s only a matter of time before it’s blatant and obvious,” said Holden, referring to the deficiencies in the town’s water system. “Sooner or later it’s going to be a problem,” he said.

Board member Heather Chase asked whether it was possible that there might be problems getting an Act 250 permit for constructing the 330,000 gallon water tank on the O‘Neil site. Engineer Naomi Johnson said that projects like this fit very well within the 10 criteria on which Act 250 decisions are made and that permitting costs associated with the water project are included in her engineering budget.

Chester Select Board chair John DeBenedetti reads the warning that voters are to address on Tuesday, May 19.

Chester Select Board chair John DeBenedetti reads the warning that voters are to address on Tuesday, May 19.

Returning to gravel, Pisha brought out photos that showed a field of rocks, explaining that this was the 15,000 yards of gravel “on the ground” that he had characterized as worth $160,000 in offsetting the difference between the land’s $399,000 asking price and the $303,300 assessment. In descriptions given at previous meetings, the 15,000 cubic yards seemed to be in a pile ready to go, but after Pisha visited the site, he found that it still needed to be crushed and screened.

Next, Pisha told the board that it had been recommended that he set up a “gravel department” that would administer the land, contract for extraction, crushing and screening, transfer gravel to the highway department, collect the price of the gravel and use whatever “profit” comes from this to make payments on the loan.

Board member Arne Jonynas said that the gravel was once again muddying the issue and felt that the discussion should just be about water, noting that a recent water main problem lead to the closing of the high school. “The other tank could have kept the school open,” said Jonynas.

At the end of the discussion, board chairman John DeBenedetti read the article that will be voted on by Australian ballot on Tuesday, May 19 and the board voted unanimously to warn the vote preceded by an informational meeting on Monday, May 18. A yes vote would authorize the town to borrow $4 million for the water project.

Historical society hopes to shed historic firehouse

In other action, Chester Historical Society President Ron Patch told the board that the group is no longer able to afford the $1,200 for insurance on the Yosemite Engine house on Route 103. “We can’t support the building,” said Patch, noting that there is conflicting information on who owns the building, but he was talking about the terms of the deed that the historical society has. Patch’s read on that deed is that the building reverts to the owner of the red brick house at First Avenue and Route 103 if the society stops using it.

Patch said he had been in touch with the owner, who does not want to take the building, but has made a generous offer to have her contractor stabilize it. CHS member Lillian Willis said that she was authorized to apply for a grant to assess the condition of the building. The grant, which comes from Preservation Trust of Vermont, would pay half the cost of having a qualified preservation architect to do the work. Willis said that she and her husband would contribute the rest.

The board agreed that the best course would be to decide on the ownership of the building while the condition assessment is being conducted.

Also, Town Clerk Deb Aldrich reported that Dupont Storage – which manufactures efficient movable shelving units – had cut its price for new shelves in the Town Hall vault by $259 $934 to $17,741. The board accepted the company’s financing proposal of $7,500 down, with the balance paid by April 1, 2016. The new units will be installed this summer.

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  1. Debbie Aldrich says:

    I wanted to correct something in your article. Dupont Storage reduced the price by 5%, which is $934.00 not $259.00. The price was $18,675.00 and Dupont reduced the price to $17,741.00.