By Lisa Loomis
In response to Moretown’s appeal of the revocation of Grow Compost’s Act 250 permit, the Vermont Environmental Court vacated the revocation on January 23 after attorneys for the town, Grow Compost and the state signed a stipulation agreement.
That agreement sends Grow Compost’s efforts to have its Act 250 permit revoked back to the District 5 Environmental Commission for the development of facts about the operation and whether it should or should not be under the jurisdiction of Act 250.
At issue is whether Grow Compost, with its current business model and activities at the Moretown site, is a farm, a strictly agricultural operation that operates as a use by right under Vermont law or whether it is a hybrid operation that is commercial and agricultural and should be governed by Act 250 and other state agencies.
In December 2013, Grow Compost filed an application with the District 5 Environmental Commission to renew its Act 250 permit. In December 2015, Grow Compost asked that its Act 250 permit be revoked, arguing that it no longer needed the permit because its uses were then all agricultural and agricultural uses are a use by right in Vermont. The owners, Scott Baughman and Lisa Ransom, asked for the revocation on the grounds that they were using chickens to consume the food waste.
At the time, Moretown and other parties voiced objections to revoking the permit. This issue remained unaddressed by the District 5 Commission from 2015 through October 31, 2017, when a single member of the commission issued a memorandum of decision revoking the permit.
The stipulation recognizes that because a quorum of the commission did not issue the October 31 decision, it is of no legal effect and must be vacated. More importantly, according to Moretown attorney Ron Shems, remanding the decision back to the commission means the town will have the opportunity to seek information about what is happening at the composting facility.
“This means that we’re going to be able to develop all the facts to understand what’s going on there and if Act 250 has jurisdiction, then conditions can be set to protect neighbors and citizens of Moretown and the environment,” Shems said.
As part of the town’s appeal of the revocation to the environmental court, Shems questioned whether Grow Compost’s composting operation is a commercial development. Grow Compost was awarded a contract this summer to handle the commercial collection of compost from the Central Vermont Solid Waste District and the company also collects commercial compost. Grow Compost does have a second composting facility in the state and is processing compost at that site.
He also questioned whether other activities on the Grow Compost tract(s), including but not limited to a trucking and equipment facility and/or a dispensary operation, are commercial development requiring an Act 250 permit.