In a public hearing that took place at the Moretown Select Board meeting on Monday, November 19, resident Edward Buttolph petitioned the board to install a temporary logging road across resident Linda Vantine’s property in order to remove trees.
While the case was a very specific one, it called to mind a common question: How much control does a landowner really have over his or her land?
In Vermont, it turns out, there is a law that limits a landowner’s authority in terms of logging operations. According to Title 19, Section 958 of the state’s statute, “If it becomes necessary for the practical removal of lumber, wood or other material, to pass through the lands of a person other than those of the owner of the land from which the lumber, wood or other material is to be removed, the selectmen may lay out a right-of-way through the land of any person for these purposes.”
According to Buttolph, the steep topography of the land surrounding his logging operation makes passing through Vantine’s property “the most practical way” for him to harvest between 100 and 125 acres of otherwise “inaccessible” timber from his property, which is located off of Route 100B about three miles north of Moretown Village.
In July of 2010, Buttolph negotiated an agreement with Vantine to lay out a logging road across her land, but his workers only had time to remove a small portion of the trees before the agreement expired in September of 2011.
As part of the agreement, Buttolph paid Vantine $5,000 for the use of her land. He also posted $5,000 as a bond that Vantine could use if she felt she had to repair any damages from his operation.
When the agreement expired, Vantine returned all $5,000 of Buttolph’s bond money, which would seem to indicate that she felt her land was returned to her in good condition. At the hearing, however, Vantine said she felt otherwise.
Vantine returned Buttolph’s money because “I just wanted to get it over with,” she said on Monday night. When she first signed the agreement with Buttolph in 2010, “I didn’t realize what a huge commercial operation it was,” Vantine said.
According to Vantine, Buttolph made adjustments to the location of his logging road without consulting her and the logging trucks damaged trees alongside the road. “I felt like I couldn’t count on what he said,” Vantine said, so when the agreement expired in 2011, she decided not to renew it.
Buttolph closed out the logging operation, but in the opinion of Andy Carlo, an independent forester he hired to take a look at the property, “it looked like a temporary closeout,” Carlo said, explaining that Buttolph did not reseed the road or remove the culverts and bridges he’d installed. “It looked like the contractor intended to come back,” Carlo said.
And now, by petitioning the select board to override Vantine’s decision, that’s exactly what Buttolph is trying to do. “We recognize that there is a conflict,” Buttolph’s attorney, Ted Powers, said. “What we’re asking for creates an obvious and immediate tension between property owners.”
While challenging Vantine’s right to regulate her land may seem unjust, in areas like central Vermont that depend on logging, these petitions “are a necessary part of working with landowners,” Carlo said.
The parties involved in the case have until December 10 to submit their testimonies, and the select board will make a decision at their meeting on Monday, December 17.