OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
May 5, 2020
This meeting was held by telephone only.
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:03 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Mitchell Green, and Bradley Rafus were present, as was Town Attorney Robert Fisher. Other documented attendees were Douglas Parkhurst, Marilou Parkhurst, Jason Ashcroft, Kathy McLean, Stephan Chait, Marketa Psenickova, Patrick Eck, Bob Teree, Edee Edwards, Marilyn Allen, Jesse Ferland, Tristan Roberts, Rhonda Ashcraft, Allen Ashcraft, Kathy Coulombe, Sue Kelly, Cara Cheyette, Linda Lyon, Everett Wilson, Peter Silverberg, Norman Fajans, Peggy Rafus, Keith Stone, Stephanie Pike, Kaylynn Ashcraft, and Scott Ashcraft. Robbin Gabriel was monitoring.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Lewis Sumner advised the Selectboard has received recommendation requests from the State for Town Health Officer and Fire Warden.
Tristan Roberts—Broadband Update
Tristan Roberts presented an update on the activities of the newly formed Deerfield Valley Communication Union District. His report follows:
The District will hold its Annual Organizational Meeting on May 12 at 5PM. The teleconference information will be posted on the District’s new website DVFiber.org and on our public bulletin boards.
The CUD has been meeting and has a series of discussions with vendors to learn what services are available and to better understand the competitive landscape. This has been very constructive so far. We heard the first of seven who are scheduled. Four others may be scheduled.
The Department of Public Service has released a draft plan today (May 5) that would dedicate to rural broadband construction up to $293 million of federal funds the state expects to receive for Covid-19 recovery. The funds would be channeled through Communications Union Districts to provide service to their underserved areas. Funds would include those allocated to expand access to distance learning and telemedicine services. The plan would not fund broadband improvements to locations that already have FCC minimum speeds. Because most state residents live in cities and towns that have FCC minimum speeds, this draft plan may not have broad public support. The District will be considering how to generate support from our area, including support from residents and you, our Selectboard.
While there is a lot of momentum and promise, patience will be needed. Availability of funding could run into a bottleneck of availability of contractors. This will take time. When asked what would make an effort like ours succeed, one vendor who is experienced with efforts across the country noted that the number one indicator of success was a group of individuals willing to eat, breathe, and sleep this effort for years in order to get it done. Despite policy and funding support, no one will do this for us, and no one but our town and district entities will have the focus on the entirety of the public good.
Gravel Pit Update
Brad Rafus advised that he would recuse himself during discussion of this agenda item. Sumner told the meeting the Selectboard heard citizen concerns at the last meeting, and has created a plan to address those concerns. The Board has communicated with Stevens & Associates of Brattleboro; Stevens has begun the process of requesting an Act 250 jurisdictional opinion, and will be conducting a geological survey to determine the quantity of gravel on the property. If that is feasible, the next step will be an environmental inspection, followed by a survey. Sumner made a motion to request a proposal from Stevens & Associates to conduct a geological survey on the property. Mitch Green seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0-1, with Rafus abstaining. Green asked whether Attorney Bob Fisher had received the necessary information to request a jurisdictional opinion. Not yet, responded Fisher, who said that Cory Freshee of Stevens & Associates was also working on that, and the two of them would collect that information. We need information from LaRock, Bazin Brothers, and the Rafuses, he added.
Cara Cheyette said a petition related to the gravel pit purchase had been presented to the Town; she asked if the Selectboard had seen it. Sumner said, yes, it was in the Town Office. Green has also seen it and said they needed to have the Town Attorney review it. Fisher confirmed that he would review, and advised the Board has sixty days to warn the meeting, so we have a little time. Green told Cheyette the original closing date, per the contract, was July 15th, but Sumner expects that date will be pushed back, as work has been delayed by COVID-19 restrictions. Will you be seeking bids from other vendors?, asked Cheyette. Sumner said purchases under $25,000 don’t require multiple bid requests. You could ask for bids if you wished, said Fisher, but professional engineering services are exempt from the bidding process under the terms of your purchasing policy. Green and Sumner also told Cheyette a gravel quality analysis would be part of the survey.
Norman Fajans had concerns about possible PFOA contamination, given that PFOAs have been detected in the monitoring wells at the closed landfill. He suggested that if gravel containing PFOAs was spread on the roads, wells near the roads might be affected. I believe that will be part of the geological survey, answered Green. Fisher advised that a Phase I environmental inspection would research the history of surrounding properties, and depending on results a Phase II inspection, which would include test pits, might be required.
Linda Lyon asked if comparative cost figures included the costs of inspection, evaluation, mining, crushing, restoration and reclamation. We’ll have to do more figuring, but it’s going to be cheaper to process our own gravel, unless we have to go through Act 250, which would be cost prohibitive, said Green. Bob Teree commented that Stevens & Associates were architects. They are also engineers, replied Fajans; they do civil, structural, and architectural work. Fisher added that Stevens has experience with gravel pits in at least four area towns. Teree spoke of the project’s indirect costs, such as lost property tax revenue, and referred to a spreadsheet he had created and posted online. Green said he had seen those figures and they were incorrect. Green and Sumner agreed they would study the numbers further before discussing details, but Green did calculate a maximum $900 per year tax revenue reduction, and said that number could actually be less, or nothing, depending on the value of the remaining parcel once it was reassessed. If the reduction is $900 a year, he continued, that would be $9,000 over ten years, whereas a $10 per yard savings on 5,000 yards of gravel would equal $50,000, or $500,000 over ten years.
Kathy McLean asked if there was a schedule for completion of the various contract contingencies, as the COVID-19 situation has caused delays. Peggy Rafus said they had agreed to an extension of the deadline, but the contract would need to be renegotiated if a new vote became necessary. Green confirmed that when the town hires a vendor to come in with their equipment and crush in our yard, the total cost of the finished product is $5 per yard.
Green told Cara Cheyette that as the parcel is private property the public could not be present during the surveying and inspection process. Cheyette asked if notice of those events could be posted on the web site as they were scheduled, along with documents pertaining to the project. Green said he thought that could be done.
Edee Edwards asked if a map of the parcel was available. At present the only map is the town’s tax parcel map, replied Green. A map delineating the ten-acre parcel will be created when the subdivision survey is done.
Bob Teree again questioned the estimated $5 per yard cost for gravel crushed on-site. Teree visualized a process requiring the use of town excavators, trucks, and department employees that would increase the cost by another $10 per yard. Green explained that when the town contracted with a crusher the vendor’s equipment went directly onto the site and produced a finished product; no town equipment was involved. Linda Lyon suggested the Selectboard could create a spreadsheet showing cost breakdown for public review. Stephanie Pike commented that she hoped the Selectboard would publicly post any documents pertaining to the project, including a cost breakdown for the gravel itself.
Jason Ashcroft noted the 10-acre property borders the closed landfill and asked if there was a required setback from the property line. Sumner believed the specified setback was twenty feet; that will be clarified during the subdivision survey. Green said that maps he had seen (created by private citizens and posted on social media) were inaccurate; those maps indicate the old landfill is right up against the property line, while there is actually a roadway between the landfill site and the property line. Peggy Rafus offered to create a map which could be posted on the town web site showing the parcel boundaries and the proposed subdivision line. Responding to Edee Edwards’ earlier comments, Peggy said the land in question is located below the current town gravel pit, and not near the Edwards’ property. Entrance would be from the Town Garage property. Edwards said sound might be a concern for neighbors. At times in the past she was able to hear the crusher in the current town gravel pit. The Rafus property is closer to the gravel pit, but Peggy said a gully between the two muffles sound so the crusher can’t be heard from the Rafus’ house. The crusher will only operate during normal business hours, said Green. And it is only a couple of weeks a year, added Sumner.
Scott Ashcraft wanted to know who was paying for the surveys; Green told him the Town was paying, as part of the purchase agreement. The geological survey will be $2-$3,000, he added. Kathy McLean recalled her past experience screening gravel to remove brush and trees; she asked if there would be a screener on site. Green explained that a portion of the proposed pit is already open and workable. In a year or two, when it is needed, the town crew would remove more trees, chip the wood, and remove and stockpile topsoil. Income from sale of logs and use of topsoil elsewhere, would offset some of the clearing costs.
Cara Cheyette acknowledged the right to privacy on personal property but urged the Board to consider a site visit in the future to allay mistrust. Green said that could be considered, once the various surveys and the jurisdictional opinion were complete. If those should return negative results, we won’t be going forward. Marilou Parkhurst asked for disclosure of costs associated with the project, including costs of surveys, examinations, and legal fees and deposits that the town has incurred to date or agreed to assume. We have not paid any legal fees to date, replied Mitch; we only hired the attorney to draw up the agreement. We have paid a $5,000 deposit as part of the agreement to hold the property off the market. Parkhurst asked for an estimate on legal fees. Attorney Fisher said he and the Board could draw up an estimate of the jurisdictional opinion cost. We need to determine what Stevens & Associates will do and what we will do, so there is no duplication of efforts.
Kaylynn Ashcraft asked what happens if the geological survey reports no usable gravel on the parcel. What do we do then? At that point, replied Green, in my opinion we would withdraw from the agreement; we would lose our $5,000 deposit. Another speaker asked if the Board could give an estimate of the how much gravel the parcel would need to produce to pay for itself. Green said that at $4 a yard, we would need to get 25,000 yards. Peggy Rafus responded to another query about a site visit, saying that until the virus scare has passed, she would not allow anyone on the property except for professional testing purposes. Peggy also said she wanted to dispel a rumor that Attorney Fisher was representing both the Rafuses and the town. Fisher is not representing us (the Rafuses) she stated. When the time comes for closing we will retain our own attorney. Peggy also told Green she was willing to provide pictures or a video of the parcel. Green suggested doing that after the jurisdictional opinion and geological survey were completed. You’ve had no legal representation since last August?, Teree asked Peggy Rafus. We have not been represented by Bob Fisher, answered Peggy.
Recycling Bins Discussion
Sumner said this subject was discussed at the last meeting, and the town might be able to install cameras to record late night visitors. Green suggested moving the bins back up by the Town Garage, and adding surveillance cameras. Scott Ashcraft, who lives adjacent to the bins on Brook Road, said he has had problems with noise late at night, and the wind carrying trash from the bins and lot into his yard. There was general discussion of various possibilities for cameras. Cheyette mentioned that the garage WiFi hot spot could be connected to surveillance cameras, with monitoring from a remote location. Brad Rafus suggested a gate at the base of the Town Garage hill, which would be open for access at designated hours. Green and Sumner agreed, as long as some weekend hours for drop-offs were available. Tristan Roberts asked about the cost of recycling. Green and Sumner told him the town wasn’t seeing credits these days as the price of cardboard has dropped. The Town pays $250 per bin, with a 3% debris allowance for non-recyclable materials in each load. Sumner said that lately our bins have had more than the allowable amount of trash, so we pay a surcharge. Our most recent monthly bill was $4-$500 dollars higher than the base charge due to household trash in the loads. Edee Edwards asked about enforcing inappropriate dumping. There is a $500 fine, replied Green. Roberts said the town might hire someone to monitor the cameras, and Rhonda Ashcraft asked if we should discontinue the bins as other towns have. If we have a problem, said Green, we can look at the video to identify offenders. Green also said the Selectboard wanted to continue the program if possible, so residents have the option of less expensive local recycling. We have a year and two months left on our contract (with the recycling vendor), said Sumner. Keith Stone urged the Board to contact offenders and enforce fines. In the past, said Stone, Brad and I have found identifying information in trash left in the recycling bins; we have to follow this up. Board members said they would ask Gabriel to research camera options. Sumner told Marilou Parkhurst he monitors the bins and calls the contractor when they are full. Unless they are very busy, the bins are usually picked up the following day. Sumner also said putting the bins on the Town Garage property would not interfere with the gravel pit. Cheyette said the Board needed to be willing to enforce illegal dumping fines if they were going to put a stop to the practice. A video record would provide evidence to back up enforcement, said Green. Brad Rafus also emphasized the importance of levying fines on offenders.
Junk Code Violation Discussion
Sumner recommended the Selectboard send letters again to several property owners, and fine those who were not in compliance. Rafus and Green agreed on a July 1st deadline. Rhonda Ashcraft said there was a lot of garbage at the place across from the school; some trash was removed but it is parked in a wagon at Diane Hale’s place. Gabriel will prepare letters notifying property owners.
Health Officer and Fire Warden Recommendations
Sumner said the Board has had notice from the State of term expirations for town Health Officer and Fire Warden. The State makes appointments for those positions based on municipal recommendations. Sumner made a motion to recommend Sue Kelly to the State of Vermont as Health Officer. Green seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. Green made a motion to recommend Malcolm Sumner to the State of Vermont as Fire Warden. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed,2-0-1, with Sumner abstaining.
Green said he thought the conference call invoice was a little high for two meetings. We’ll be doing more meetings, said Sumner. Next week the Planning Commission has a hearing. Green also said he would prefer not to hold another meeting until we can meet again at a physical location. We don’t know when we’ll be able to meet in public, said Marilou Parkhurst, so we should continue this (phone conferences) until the restrictions end. The current restrictions are in place until May 15th; Sumner advised waiting to see if the restrictions end. (Translator’s note: On May 15th, the Governor announced an extension of the stay-at-home order until June 15th, with a possible loosening of some restrictions on June 1st.)
Brad Rafus said the full highway crew is back to work, as of yesterday.
Hearing of Visitors
Correspondence was not reviewed because of the remote nature of the meeting.
Executive Session (if needed)
The meeting was adjourned at 8:25 p.m.