Derry board mulls cannabis vote, talks wastewater sites

By Cherise Madigan
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

The Londonderry Select Board has committed to holding a special town meeting to vote on whether to opt into Vermont’s nascent retail cannabis market, as well as whether to adopt a previously rejected local option tax for revenue from retail sales. Cannabis was not the only contentious issue on the agenda, however.
Cannabis question pushed to the forefront

Emmett Dunbar discussing cannabis businesses in Londonderry in January 2020. Telegraph file photo

Londonderry farmer Emmett Dunbar has pushed for an earlier meeting in recent weeks, arguing that it is imperative for the town to “get in early” on the cannabis market. In weeks prior the board had discussed delaying Londonderry’s annual Town Meeting until May (a motion that unanimously passed during a special session of the board on Jan. 21) and re-visiting the cannabis issue after that.

Dunbar argues that waiting until the summer will be too late, though Town Clerk and state Rep. Kelly Pajala has noted that early opportunities for licensing will only be open to larger cannabis companies. If the town voted in favor of retail cannabis, Dunbar said, those companies may see Londonderry as a more attractive prospect.

“Investors are looking for places to build now, and it would be nice if we were on the list,” Dunbar said. “That’s what this is really all about for me: our own community’s vibrance.”

Board members and town employees said including a vote on retail cannabis at Town Meeting would be too complicated. By delaying Town Meeting, board members hope to have an outdoor, in-person meeting. But the state law permitting retail cannabis sales that opt-in votes be by Australian ballot. That would mean that town employees and volunteers would be running an outdoor meeting while also staffing Australian ballot voting.

So, at its Jan. 21 special session to postpone Town Meeting, the board agreed to tackle the cannabis question sooner rather than later. On Monday night, board chair George Mora floated the idea of a cannabis meeting in April. The date may be decided at the board’s next meeting.

Wastewater discussions spark tension

Talk of two possible sites for new wastewater systems sparked heated debate on Monday night, though it appears that neither site will be pursued by the town.

Speaking for the Parks Board, Kelly Pajala objected to considering Pingree Park as a wastewater system site. Images courtesy of GNAT TV

Wastewater solutions have been an ongoing topic given the limitations of individual septic systems and Mora noted left unaddressed the issues could eventually make it more difficult for some Londonderry businesses and residents to sell their property.

A grant-funded feasibility study to identify potential locations for new wastewater treatment systems in the North and South villages had identified Pingree Park — described by Mora as Londonderry’s “crown jewel” — as an appropriate site for such a system in the North village.

This brought an objection from the town’s Parks Board in a letter addressed to the select board. Speaking for the Parks Board, Pajala argued that the study should not continue for three reasons:

A wastewater system on the property is not compatible with recreation, and though the majority of it will be underground the above-ground portions would “be a potential safety hazard and would be an eyesore.”
The system would present “significant and long term” limits to future infrastructure development in the park.
The deeds to Pingree Park specify that it be used for recreational purposes.

Planning Commission Chair Sharon Crossman notes that the survey only identifies possible sites that then need further study.

Planning Commission chair Sharon Crossman explained that the study entailed “end-to-end mapping” of Londonderry and that Pingree Park was just one suggestion. Any potential site, she added, would need to be studied further to verify that it would fit requirements.

After talk of the decision being made by a public vote and the idea that using the park would be contentious, the board unanimously voted against continuing the study at Pingree Park.

A rumpus arose out of discussion of 0 Main Street in South Londonderry as a wastewater site which was warned as an executive session leading many to believe the town was about to buy it. Mora said that wasn’t the case and it was talked about in public.

The property, which recently became available for purchase in South Londonderry, has not yet been studied, Crossman said. Though it’s not a “great site,” she said, it may be suitable enough.

Select Board Chair George Mora moves the discussion of a South Derry property from an executive session to the public meeting

Mora said that purchasing a property for a wastewater site at some point would be necessary.

Board member Taylor Prouty said to “do nothing” would mean letting “the villages completely fail and then the town ends up owning the property by default.”

“I think it is happening,” Crossman agreed, arguing that the current situation may pose a threat to the local environment and public health as well as limiting development. “For years we’ve had water quality testing in the West River and it doesn’t look well. That future is here; we’re living it.”

Londonderry resident Chad Stoddard argued that septic solutions are available for home and business owners, and the situation is not as dire as town officials describe. He advocated for abandoning the project altogether. “The town dying around itself is balderdash; it’s not going to happen,” he said.

Policing services

Windham County Sheriff Mark Anderson presented the range of services offered by his office, which the town is considering as a replacement for current services from the Vermont State Police.
One option was shared policing services with the Town of Jamaica, which contracts with the Windham County Sheriff’s Office for 20 hours of policing per week, for a total of $50,000 annually. A full-time officer shared by the two adjacent towns would lower costs for both, Anderson said, citing a similar agreement between Westminster and Putney.

After a discussion of traffic ticket income and electronic speed signs, Mora agreed to follow up with Jamaica Board chair Greg Muelmans about the possibility of sharing policing services.

In other news

  • Emergency Management Director Kevin Beattie said that statewide signups for Covid-19 vaccinations were still under way for Vermonters 75 and older. If any eligible residents need assistance registering for an appointment they should reach out to Neighborhood Connections he said, while offering to help residents himself as well.
  • Hunter Excavating has offered to take stumps, brush, leaves and potentially even food scraps from the Londonderry Transfer Station to support the company’s efforts to convert waste into mulch rather than burning it. Hunter’s idea could result in $12,000 in savings, said Solid Waste coordinator Esther Fishman. Board members requested that Hunter Excavating put together an operations plan.
  • The One Londonderry community forum organized by the Vermont Council on Rural Development and the Planning Commission’s Project Londonderry has had more than 100 people register as of Monday night. The event will take place virtually on Wednesday night.
  • Ballots for the Taconic & Green Regional School District will be mailed to residents before March as the district has chosen to proceed with voting via Australian ballot on the traditional Town Meeting date, March 2. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Pajala said, and ballots can be returned by mail or dropped off at Town Offices.
  • Development Review Board member John Lancaster died last week.
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About the Author: Journalist and photographer Cherise Madigan specializes in writing about outdoor recreation, the environment and travel. She has roots in Manchester and a history of reporting throughout Southern Vermont. Madigan is a graduate of Nazareth College of Rochester, earning her degree in Political Science summa cum laude in 2015.

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