OFFICE OF THE PLANNING COMMISSION
OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
PLANNING COMMISSION REGULAR MEETING AND SELECTBOARD SPECIAL MEETING
September 9, 2014
The first portion of the evening’s activities consisted of an off-the-record visit to the site of the proposed Denison/Ashfield Stone schist quarry. At approximately 5:00 p.m. a sizeable group gathered at 5076 Jacksonville Stage Road and traveled together to a clearing in the woods just below the proposed quarry site, where they joined others awaiting the arrival of Environmental Commission members. Selectboard members Edee Edwards and Earl Holtz, and Planning Commission members Sirean LaFlamme, Brian McNeice, and Margaret Stoltzman were present, as were Ann Manwaring (D-VT Windham-6), Russell Denison, Jerry Pratt (Ashfield Stone), John Bennett and Alyssa Sabetto (Windham Regional Commission), Chris Mays (Reformer), numerous abutters, residents, and other interested parties. When Environmental Commission representatives arrived shortly thereafter, the group briefly consulted site plans, took a walk to the point where an access road would be constructed leading from the existing logging road to the quarry site, then climbed to the proposed rock extraction location. This accomplished, everyone relocated to the Community Hall for the 7:00 p.m. Act 250 pre-hearing conference.
Act 250 Pre-Hearing Conference
Stephan Morse, Chairman of the Act 250 District Commission, called the meeting to order at approximately 7:00 p.m. He introduced Leslie Hanafin, Julia Schmitz (fellow Commissioners), and April Hensel (District #2 Coordinator). Planning Commission members Sirean LaFlamme, Bill Pusey, Margaret Stoltman, Brian McNeice, and Stephan Chait were present, along with Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Earl Holtz, and Edee Edwards. Morse explained that during this preliminary conference the applicants would give a general overview of the project, then attendees would introduce themselves, indicate whether they wished to apply for preliminary party status, and—if so—under which criteria. At the end of the meeting the Environmental Commission would attempt to set a date for the actual hearing. April Hensel defined party status for the gathering, and Julia Schmitz encouraged anyone present who was interested in applying for party status to do so in the course of the meeting, as requestors applying later would need to notify the full list of all those granted status in the proceeding.
Chris Nordle, attorney for the applicants, outlined proposed operation basics: The removal of large blocks of stone from an 11-acre section of a 70-acre leased parcel within the approximately 1200-acre tract of land, with work taking place April to November, roads and weather permitting, transport of stone blocks to occur Monday through Friday, two loads per day, equipment maintenance but no trucking of stone on Saturdays. No blasting or crushing will take place; stone will be removed to the Ashfield plant in Massachusetts for processing. One 1200-foot section of new road will be constructed between the excavation site and the existing access road. Jerry Pratt, owner of Ashfield Stone, described a stone-cutting process consisting of a cutting wire fed through a pilot hole drilled in the rock with the lead end then attached to the cutter, which activates the wire to perform the cut. The goal is to place the wire at existing cracks in the rock whenever possible, to achieve the cleanest cut. Pratt explained that removing rock from the ground would be done in sections; quarriers would cut a 15’-x-30’ bench into the slope, starting at the top, and when stone removal from that segment was complete the bench would be backfilled and reseeded and a new 15’ x 30’ foot section begun lower on the hillside. Once freed, blocks of stone will be lifted out and moved to the trucks using an excavator and a loader.
Stephan Chait asked whether the wire going through the rock was considered drilling or saw cutting. In the industry, said Pratt, the equipment is termed a wire saw, so cutting would be the appropriate descriptor. Chait mentioned the acoustic study had addressed drilling, but not sawing; Pratt said that omission was being remedied. Responding to a question from the floor, Pratt said the rock would be turned into countertops, fireplace surrounds, flooring, chimney caps, and other items for use in and around the home.
Stephan Morse commenced polling the audience to identify those requesting preliminary party status. After the first few queries, he called a short recess to consult with his fellow Commissioners. On returning, Morse told the meeting each requestor should include a very short explanation of why they were asking for party status under their chosen criteria. Chris Nordle clarified the applicants’ intention not to contest any request for preliminary party status, with the understanding that there would be an opportunity to do so in the future. Attorney David Grayck acknowledged the applicants’ right to challenge at a future date. Following this hiatus, the roll call was resumed. The following individuals requested party status:
Susan Kelly (represented by attorney David Grayck), Arthur (Jesse) Ferland, Marilyn Allen, Ken Coughlin, Peter Silverberg, Tony Blackett, Michaela Harlow, Edee Edwards (representing the Selectboard, which has automatic party status), Brian McNeice (representing the Planning Commission, he stated that the Commission has posted a set of permit-related questions on the town web site), Arthur Copeland, Lynda Copeland, Justina Gregory, Patrick Gregory, Penfield Chester, Lesley Pollitt, Janet Eldridge-Taylor, David Brewster, Melvin Osborne, Rick Gay, Norman Fajans, Deborah Fajans, Wayne Cooper, David Brown, Lisa Rose-Andrews, Cara Cheyette, Tristan Roberts, Bonnie Brown, Everett Wilson, Linda Lyon, Mary Horne, Carl Barmen, Elizabeth Martin, Margaret Bartenhagen, Elizabeth Laona, Matt Maranian, Loretta Palazzo, Judi Kotanchik, Rebecca Stone, Elizabeth Adams, Jan Ham, Liam Wheeler, Christopher Parkins, Paul Taylor, Nicholas Bartenhagen, and Jared Smith.
The majority of those applying for party status listed concerns with noise, truck traffic (including higher town road maintenance costs), potential water pollution and aquifer damage, potential adverse effects on aesthetics and wildlife, and the proposed project’s possible noncompliance with the town and regional plans. Rebecca Stone voiced her support of the project, while Wayne Courser, who did not request party status, told the meeting he had no concerns about the quarry, and mentioned the unofficial petition submitted to the Selectboard carrying names of people in favor of the enterprise.
Stephan Morse opened discussion of possible dates for the Act 250 hearing. The Environmental Commissioners explained that, given the large number of party status requestors and the need to hear testimony, including that of various expert witnesses, an evening hearing might not be feasible. Morse suggested breaking the procedure into several meetings, and perhaps addressing Criteria 1-5 at the first session and 6-10 at another session. Some of these meetings may need to be held during the day. To facilitate the process, requestors were also encouraged to consider forming groups with similar concerns and appointing a spokesperson to represent each group. All interested parties were enjoined to be well-prepared in advance of the hearing. At the conclusion of discussion Morse announced that David Grayck and Chris Nordle would confer about schedules and convey their findings to April Hensel, who will notify the Environmental Commission and the list of requestors.
Morse adjourned the conference at 8:58 p.m.
Planning Commission Secretary, pro tem