OFFICE OF THE PLANNING COMMISSION
Town of Halifax, Vermont
PLANNING COMMISSION SPECIAL MEETING
August 26, 2014
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:18 p.m. Planning Commission members present were Sirean LaFlamme, Brian McNeice, Bill Pusey, Margaret Stoltzman, and Stephan Chait. Robbin Gabriel, Jesse Ferland, Marilyn Allen, Margo Avakian, Mary Horne, Jerry Pratt, Cara Cheyette, Edee Edwards, Janet Taylor, Paul Taylor, John Bennett, Wayne Courser, and Judi Kotanchik were also present.
Changes and/or Additions to the Agenda
Windham Regional Commission will be holding a September 2nd meeting at 6:00 p.m. in the WRC office to discuss the current Halifax Act 250 project. Sirean LaFlamme read aloud the courtesy invitation the Planning Commission had received from Alyssa Sabetto, WRC Planner. John Bennett explained that WRC extends such an invitation when their Project Review Committee is slated to discuss projects in a given town.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Meggie Stoltzman made a motion to approve the 8/12/14 regular meeting minutes as written. McNeice seconded the motion, which passed, 4-0-1, with Stephan Chait abstaining.
Welcome Stephan Chait as New Commission Member
LaFlamme recognized Stephan Chait as the newest member of the Commission and thanked him for his willingness to join the Board.
Discussion of the Act 250/Denison Quarry Application Criteria
Comments and Opinions
LaFlamme read, for the record, several letters received by the Commission. The first quoted statistics from a 2006 study showing a decline in property values in an area surrounding an unnamed gravel quarry opened in the 1990s, and used those figures to calculate a potential drop in value to homes in the proposed Denison Quarry area. The letter went on to explain that the Halifax Conservation Group, established in 2012 to study the possible adverse consequences of a schist quarry within the town, is working with a team of engineers, experts, and attorneys. HCG is encouraging donations to aid them in their work. The letter was signed by Sue Kelly, Treasurer, on behalf of HCG. The second letter, referring to the HCG communication, pointed out that the study alluded to therein examined a gravel quarry, location unknown, not a schist quarry. Also, although the current Act 250 process was described as a “critical phase,” the Environmental Commission does not consider land values in its deliberations. A final letter computed the total road frontage for the Denison property (21,262 feet), and proposed that 70 seventeen-acre lots could be created, each with 300 feet of road frontage, and sold at $40,000 apiece, or a total of $2.8 million. The writer went on to say that such a subdivision would have a significant impact on all municipal functions, and asked what effect it might have on town property values and the conservation district. The authors of these last two missives wished to remain anonymous.
Cara Cheyette wondered whether reading anonymous communications into a public meeting record was appropriate. In response, LaFlamme mentioned that when “Cliff’s Notes” on the Act 250 proposal were introduced without author identification at the August 12th meeting, no one had raised that question.
Halifax resident Judi Kotanchik, who resides at 3874 Jacksonville Stage Road, read a statement asking the Board to consider the benefits and detriments of a quarry within the town. Quarry trucks will pass within 50 feet of her 1777 home, and although the Act 250 application’s noise study shows the point where trucks enter the quarry site as 1,160 feet from that house, the study does not take into consideration the fact the trucks will be turning off Jacksonville Stage Road onto TH52 only 60 feet from the dwelling. Those trucks, shifting to climb the access road upgrade after the turn, will create a noise level of 114 to 119 decibels. The noise impact on the house, flora, and fauna will be dramatic, Kotanchik said. Quoting from a description used in the Act 250 application’s Noise Impact Assessment, Figure 2, column 1, she said she found it hard to believe any sound level above zero decibels could be equated to “a quiet winter night.”
Jacksonville Stage Road and Stark Mountain Road, Kotanchik went on to say, require much maintenance under normal conditions, without even considering the special circumstances of mud season or the added burden of quarry trucks. Stark Mountain Road is steep, treacherous, and essentially one lane.
“What does the conservation district mean,” she asked, “if the land is put into industrial use?” Kotanchik chose to purchase her house because of its idyllic setting, history, and location. The nearby Conservation Trust was an added bonus, giving the promise of a permanent sanctuary for wildlife. Had the area been zoned industrial/commercial she would not have chosen to buy the property. The quarry project will not benefit either the town or the state in any way, she said, and allowing the project negates the reason the conservation district was established in the first place. In closing she asked the Board to carefully consider the impact the proposed quarry would have on the town’s character and its financial obligations relating to road maintenance.
The Board, with John Bennett’s guidance and commentary and the aid of notes compiled by Brian McNeice, examined each of the ten main Act 250 criteria and their various sub-criteria with the goal of formulating questions and concerns they wished to present at the Act 250 hearing. The full criteria list can be found in the Act 250 application binder housed in the town office; only those items generating discussion during this meeting are mentioned below. (Please note that in the following summation the main criteria are in numerical order, but that is not always the case with the sub-criteria as the text follows the order of discussion. Click here to view Meggie Stoltzman’s compilation of questions posed throughout the meeting.)
Criterion 1(b)(i): Meggie Stoltzman asked whether the treatment pond would need maintenance after the 50-year permit period, and, if so, how that would be accomplished. This, Bennett said, might be an issue to raise with the Environmental Commission.
Criterion 1: Stephan Chait mentioned that this criterion, covering water and air pollution, appeared to focus on water issues only. Bennett located this statement in the application: “The Agency of Natural Resources Air Quality and Climate Division has concluded that an air pollution control permit is not required at this time.” The equipment to be used at the quarry falls well under the threshold requiring such a permit, Bennett said. He then raised the question of air pollution which might be created by a rock saw mentioned in the noise study (a later criterion) but is not noted under Criterion 1.
Criterion 1(a), Headwaters: Bennett surmised that a challenge to the applicant’s statement the proposed quarry site is not a headwaters area would not be beneficial, but neither is he strictly satisfied with the accuracy of that assertion. He advised speaking of this with District Coordinator April Hensel before the hearing. Cara Cheyette asked whether waters from the area do not eventually end up in the Greenfield water supply. Bennett replied that the Environmental Commission might consider waters that distant to be beyond their jurisdiction, but the question should be raised as a pre-hearing query.
Criterion 1(b), Waste Disposal: Edee Edwards had questions about schist dust; how much would be generated, and, if sufficient quantities were produced, would it be sold to farmers in a local market or would it be trucked elsewhere? Or would it all stay on-site? McNeice said that dust from this particular type of stone would be a clay-like substance.
Criterion 1(e), Streams: Bennett drew the Board’s attention to one six-foot diameter, 60-foot long corrugated metal culvert shown in the site plans. He suggested querying Todd Menees, the stream authorization engineer, regarding the status of the stream authorization permit for which an application was filed on December 17, 2013.
Criterion 1(g), Wetlands: McNeice queried the accuracy of Deer Park Brook’s estimated distance from the quarry site; the map scale did not seem to support the figure given. Bennett suggested calling the wetlands biologist, Rebecca Chalmers, about the possible need for a conditional use determination.
Criteria 2 & 3, Water Supply: Stoltzman wondered whether the quarry dig would be deep enough to have an impact on the aquifer. There is no evidence in the application materials, said Chait, that the quarry excavation would or would not have an impact on surrounding water supplies. Bennett read a section of case law indicating that the applicant would need to provide proof of no harm to area water supplies only if the project intended to pump or withdraw water from existing sources. No such activity is planned for the quarry site, nor is any blasting or well-drilling proposed.
Criterion 4, Soil Erosion: The project’s stormwater permit is in place, Bennett said, and serves as a presumption of compliance. Plans for winter erosion control are detailed in the application. However, a question was posed concerning monitoring of those controls during off-season.
Criterion 5: Highways & Transportation: LaFlamme said the Selectboard would be addressing this item. Bennett suggested requesting such specifics such as the number and size of trucks to be used, gross vehicle weight, and clarification on the number of truck trips per day. Chait said information on truck model, year, and maintenance would be helpful in attempting to determine potential noise levels, emissions, and pollution from equipment fluids. If quarry operations began each year on April 1st, Edwards asked, but no truck transport of stone occurred until after mud-season road posting was discontinued on May 15th, would there then be a period of increased truck travel as accumulated stone was removed from the site? Act 250 uses “trip ends” in setting regulations. Bennett explained that, as defined in the Act 250 training manual, a single vehicle entering and then exiting a location constitutes two trip ends. For a clear understanding of potential quarry traffic, the Board should ask how many trip ends were anticipated. Subsection (g) under Criterion 5 does not speak adequately to the issue of emergency vehicle access, said Bennett. He advised raising questions on the subject.
Bennett encouraged the town to converse with April Hensel prior to the September 9th site visit regarding the most efficient means of reaching the proposed quarry area. The current plan to meet at Mr. Denison’s residence and walk in several miles is impractical, in that it is time-consuming and may present a deterrent for some interested parties. Arranging transport by vehicle might be the wiser course. Kotanchik proposed starting from a point near her house and traveling to the site via the actual path to be used by quarry trucks and workers.
Criterion 8, Scenic Beauty, Historical Sites, and Natural Areas: Bennett pointed to sub-criterion (b)(i); the applicant’s response notes no on-site processing. His questions: Does cutting stone blocks to size for trucking not constitute on-site processing? What type of rock saw will be used? Why didn’t the noise study include a saw and what noise level would a rock saw generate? Janet Taylor directed attention to Appendix A of the application where the noise level of accelerating trucks is shown in Model 2 as 114-119 decibels.
Criterion 9, Earth Resources: The applicants’ response materials purport to show a reclamation plan, but do not in fact illustrate a reclamation strategy. Bennett advised querying the pertinence of the information provided. Also, is the $10,000 escrow amount earmarked for reclamation sufficient? What would those funds cover? Janet Taylor remarked that sub-criterion 9(k), which concerns public investments and includes town roads, needs to be considered.
John Bennett left for the evening at this point in the meeting.
Jerry Pratt, having listened to the dialogue throughout the evening, said he believes answers to most of the questions asked would be found within the application materials. He volunteered to either assist in locating those answers or to address any topic missed in the applicant’s responses. Edwards, outlining some of the current open meeting law requirements, cautioned against email discussions, and explained to Pratt that he could read meeting minutes and find notices of upcoming meetings on our town web site, as well as meeting agendas. He could also request direct notice of public meetings in writing.
Criterion 9, continued: Chait asked whether the Road Commissioner would be providing information about potential increased maintenance costs. Edwards told him that Rafus was researching ideas such as guardrails, additional gravel, and turn-outs. In response to sub-criterion 9(k), the applicant states there would be no impact on public highways. Can the applicant explain the justification for that statement? Bill Pusey remarked that the Environmental Commission will also be studying the application, and will likely take note of many of the same points currently under discussion by the Planning Commission.
Criterion 10: McNeice noted in his written commentary the application’s comparison between quarry project goals and the Halifax Town Plan highlighted those areas of the Plan which supported the quarry concept but ignored other areas which may be incompatible with the applicant’s objectives. For example, quoted McNeice, one of the town’s stated goals is “to discourage uncoordinated or incompatible development that may jeopardize or overburden public or private investment, or damage the town’s resources, rural character, and overall quality of life.” This is just one of several town plan recommendations which may not support the project. Also the section of the town plan pertaining specifically to the conservation district should be examined for possible conflicting interests.
Edwards remarked that her own review of the response to Criterion 10 left her with the impression the applicant had misread the Town Plan fairly substantially on some levels. Reading from the application materials, Supplemental Memorandum, Exhibit 31, she noted that in arguing their case for compatible use the applicant had cited as supporting evidence portions of the Vermont State planning goals list (see Halifax Town Plan pp. 57-60). This list was included in the town plan as a cross-reference, and cannot be defined as a Halifax Town implementation measure. The Land Use Classification portion of the Town Plan recommends that commercial and industrial land usage in rural residential and village districts be compatible with existing uses and carefully controlled. Conservation district recommendations make no mention of commercial and industrial use, but do state that “Development, which creates significant amounts of traffic or noise, or which otherwise has an adverse impact on the environment, is undesirable.” Edwards believes the wording of these recommendations signals the town’s intent to disallow commercial/industrial activity with in the conservation district.
“What do you think the biggest complaint is going to be?” asked Pusey, referring to the overall quarry project. Edwards said that for the town as a whole the main issue would likely be additional tax dollars spent on road maintenance. For those residents most directly impacted, the primary concern would probably be quality of life—continuous noise, traffic, dust.
Hearing of Visitors
Pusey made a motion to adjourn the meeting, which McNeice seconded. The motion passed, 5-0. The meeting was adjourned at 10:22 p.m.
Planning Commission Secretary, pro tem