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Officials mull easement changes

 

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  November 2, 2006

By Erin Post

Cross country skiing, hunting, mountain biking, timber harvesting: these are some of the traditional uses Moretown officials would like to see continue on town-owned land included in a proposed conservation easement with the state of Vermont and Moretown Landfill Inc.

Now they just need to convince the state to agree to the changes.

How to do that-and whether it was even possible-were topics of discussion at an October 30 meeting between the select board, the planning commission and the school board.

The group got some more answers the following day when a state wildlife biologist toured the property in question and discussed possibilities with town officials.

"He was generally receptive to the changes we proposed," said planning commission member John Atkinson, although the details of any revised easement are still very much up in the air.

On Monday, November 6, the three boards plan to meet again to hash out how to proceed with the agreement, which has the potential to conserve up to 150 acres of land behind Moretown School and provide a location for a town garage.

The deal requires Moretown Landfill Inc. to pay the town $101,250 for development rights to 81 acres of town-owned land and then cede those rights to the state agency of natural resources for protection of the land as deer wintering habitat.

Through the agreement, the landfill meets a state requirement to mitigate deeryards that would be affected by construction of an additional cell for waste.

Also included in the agreement is an option for the landfill to purchase development rights to another 65 acres of contiguous town-owned property. Moretown Landfill Inc. has until August 1, 2012, to exercise this option at a cost of $81,250.

Tom Badowski, manager of Moretown Landfill Inc., has said the second parcel is included in the deal as insurance in case construction necessitates additional mitigation according to state standards.

In meetings since the deal came to light, planning commissioners have identified a list of a few general uses they would like to see continue on the land-activities that were either ruled out or not addressed in the original document-for the state to consider.

Mountain biking, cross country skiing, trail repair and maintenance, and logging were singled out as high priorities.

A second goal is to include language in the agreement that acknowledges a stewardship project the planning commission is working on.

Officials said this might be the best way to leave the door open for any number of activities-such as maple sugaring and camping-that are not likely to interfere with protection of deer wintering habitat but are not addressed in the easement.

"I don't see us in the timeframe that we have coming up with an exhaustive list" of potential uses, said planning commission chair Steve Sharp said at the Monday meeting.

In theory, acknowledging the stewardship plan in the easement would also allow the planning commission the flexibility to carry out their original mission, which was to use a $2,100 grant to develop a comprehensive land use plan by next spring.

"I think it's key to have a reference to this forest stewardship plan in the easement," Sharp said.

The easement and the wider deal with Moretown Landfill Inc. had been set for signing in early November; officials pushed that date back at least one month to early December.

Additional questions that came up following Tuesday's walk of the property include whether or not the state would actually be holding the easement to the property. Because of the relatively small size of the parcel, the agency of natural resources may turn the easement over to the Vermont Land Trust, Atkinson said.

And even if the select board, the school board, and Moretown Landfill Inc. sign off on the agreement, final approval may also hinge on state Act 250 proceedings.

Some school board members at Monday's meeting advocated for more community involvement, something that select board co-chair Paula Mastroberardino said would be part of the process as the deal moves forward.

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