By Kara Herlihy
The September 2 meeting of the Moretown Select Board was standing room only as community members gathered to voice their concerns over town monies spent opposing the proposed quarry on 100B.
Members of a group loosely calling themselves "Moretown Taxpayers For Common Sense" expressed their dissatisfaction with the estimated $104,000 spent by the town since 2004 fighting the proposed quarry project.
The quarry is proposed by Rich Rivers for a portion of 93 acres north of Moretown Village on Route 100B. Rivers applied for and was denied town development review board permits for the quarry in 2004 and was denied an Act 250 permit on two criteria, air quality and Town Plan conformance, in 2007. Rivers appealed both and the appeals were merged at the Environmental Court.
A representative for the group, Jack Wood, said that while they appreciate the efforts of the mostly volunteer town boards, their "expertise is limited" and "the silent majority is not being heard."
Wood questioned the town's expenditures following the DRB's initial denial of the proposed quarry project, and said they were seeking answers about money already spent as well as the prospect of future spending.
Questions were also raised regarding the role of the town's attorney, Ron Shems, who has worked on the case at a discounted rate. Wood asked the board if there was a possibility that Shems "was being compensated elsewhere."
NEVER A HERO
Shems responded to Wood's claims stating, "You're never a hero in your own town," and that he has turned away higher paying clients to take on the town's case. He added that "Moretown is getting a good deal" when compared to other similar cases throughout the state.
Shems said he takes his direction from the select board, and any shared expenses have been done so fairly, with the best interests of the town in mind, "because that is my job" he said. "Justice shouldn't go to those with the most money," he continued.
Select board member Paula Mastroberardino said that the board would need some time to review the group's questions and draft a written response.
TAKE FURTHER ACTION
Wood said that they are going to "take further action from here" and will be looking into a petition before Town Meeting day so the town has an opportunity to vote to stop further spending."You're going to lose in court; we aren't going to pay for it anymore," Wood said. Select board member Don Wexler said, "It is unfair to single out the board," whose job it is to uphold the decision of the Development Review Board. Select board member Stephanie Venema said, "We, the board, could be facing serious revenue losses up to a million dollars over 33 years." A FAIR SHOT
Other residents added that Moretown is projecting an anti-commercial industry message by fighting the quarry, and that the town cannot rely simply on a home value tax base. "People need to know that they can come to Moretown and get a fair shot," one resident stated.
Another resident questioned the board's acquisition of gravel to repair Moretown Mountain Road following severe flood damage. Select board members confirmed that the gravel did come from a once closed local gravel pit owned by Jonathan Siegel, but was only approved by Act 250 due to the emergency circumstances. Town Attorney Ron Shems said that the litigation "will likely be over by midwinter" and reminded concerned parties that it is the applicant who continues to draw out the process with numerous appeals over the last few years.