Created on Thursday, 16 October 2008 08:57
Last Updated on Thursday, 16 October 2008 08:57
By Scott Sainsbury
A letter appeared recently asserting that Moretown should no longer defend the decision of its Development Review Board in the River's quarry case. There are several reasons why the defense of that decision is important to Moretown, and all communities in Vermont -- and should therefore be pursued.
The Rivers' application for an industrial quarrying operation in the agricultural-residential section of Moretown was made years after the Moretown Town Plan and zoning regulations were established. The zoning regulations should apply to Rivers as a new property owner. Everyone else in the town abides by the regulations. Everyone else who bought property after the plan and regulations were instituted agreed to live by the rules. Why should Mr. Rivers be different?
The Town Plan and zoning regulations of Moretown are legitimate. The plan was developed with input from citizens at public hearings and property visits throughout the town. It was approved (in accordance with procedure) by the select board. And the populace subsequently approved the zoning regulations.
The zoning regulations for the district are reasonable and clear. Homes, farms, home businesses, inns and educational programs can be located in the ag/res district. They even allow earth extraction provided the following criteria are met:
"The (DRB) Development Review Board shall find that the proposed activity will not cause a hazard to public health or safety, or otherwise have an undue effect on neighboring properties and uses, public facilities and services, surface and ground water; or the scenic or natural beauty of the area, other aesthetic values, historic sites or rare or irreplaceable natural resources or areas."
After a comprehensive several-month process in which Rivers' experts presented and explained the project to a diligent DRB, the permit was denied. It could not fulfill the requirements.
Rivers appealed the decision to the State Environmental Court and asked the court for permission to first apply for an Act 250 permit. Only a very small number of Act 250 projects are denied (most are required to make changes, and then are approved), so perhaps Rivers hoped that if he were approved in Act 250, his appeal of the town decision would look more reasonable to the Environmental Court.
This is where Rivers' deep project pockets put the town in a tough spot. The Act 250 proceedings were "de novo: (started over from the beginning). So, the town had to decide whether to incur great expense in defending its right to establish and uphold local regulations, or signal to anyone who disagrees with a decision that if they have the resources, they can get their way. If the select board did not defend, they would violate their contract with citizens to uphold regulations approved by the community. At the same time, defending was likely to be costly -- monetarily and politically.
After lengthy consideration of the Town Plan, zoning regulations and DRB decision, the town select board decided to defend the DRB decision. And, after another multi-month series of hearings the Act 250 Commission also denied the Rivers' application.
Even after losses at the town and Act 250 levels, knowing that nearly 1,000 people had signed petitions against the quarry and knowing that on two occasions, citizens' groups had tried to negotiate a good faith buy-out with him, Rivers applied to the State Environmental Court asking it to overturn both prior decisions.
The Environmental Court was also a de novo process. So, once again, if Moretown were going to uphold its local control, it would have to defend its DRB decision with full testimony, experts and legal counsel.
The Environmental Court proceedings began in early 2008 and were delayed for several months. It has been in recess since May but is expected to wrap up with a few more hearings in December.
It is clear that the Moretown Select Board has acted responsibly and appropriately. Yet, the process has been unfairly expensive. But that has been caused by the applicant's quest to get the town to abandon its local sovereignty.
This project would result in blasting, the cacophony of crushing, loading, heavy trucks lugging up and down a steep haul road, the danger of them pulling on and off a heavily traveled highway near the peak of a hill, the loss of recreational use of the 100B corridor, and the danger of retention ponds and mining emissions perched on a hill directly above several homes and the Mad River. It will be a nuisance and eyesore to the community and visiting tourists for over 30 years.
Worse, it will not benefit the town with increased property taxes (virtually no improvements are planned -- equipment will be leased). It will not yield tax income from proceeds -- that goes to the state. And it will shift taxes from those who live near the quarry and whose property values will decline, to those in town who live further away. Those are tremendously compelling reasons for citizens to reject, and the court to deny, the application.
If the town gives up now, it will represent a great public relations coup and legal cost avoidance windfall for the applicant. Moretown can see the matter through for relatively little more cost to each taxpayer.
For the sake of local control, and to protect the community from a destructive and possibly disastrous 33-year impact, the select board and citizenry should stand as one and see the fight through.
Editor's Note: The town was not defending at the Act 250 review level; it participated because it had statutory party status. It is nowhere stated or shown as fact that the quarry applicant, Rich Rivers, has undertaken a "quest to get the town to abandon its local sovereignty."
Sainsbury lives in Moretown.