The majority of the board of Green Mountain Union High School decided Thursday night, Nov. 10, that it would not alter its 2007 position on the quarry next door, on 139 acres owned by O’Neil Sand & Gravel. Owner Amy O’Neil said her company is considering seeking an amended permit for blasting at a gravel pit adjacent to school property. Since Tropical Storm Irene, the state has allowed the O’Neils to aid the recovery efforts by extracting gravel at the site. That permission ends on Tuesday, Nov. 15.
Citing noise, dust and truck traffic, a group of Chester residents had successfully opposed a 2006 request by the O’Neils that they be allowed to blast and drill on the site. The school board took active party status in opposing the permit amendment. That opposition was upheld by both an Act 250 review and the Environmental Court. Concerning the school board’s decision, chair Bill Bourque said that, without taking a vote, a majority of the board decided Thursday that it would not ”change its position” on the O’Neils’ 2006 amended permit application.
Reached Saturday morning, Amy O’Neil said the board’s decision, “didn’t say they were against the blasting. … they were unable to tell me specifically what they opposed. …I asked a very specific question to this board and I didn’t get an answer.” She added that,“Since we didn’t get an answer to the question we asked … we will consider filing an application for the permit … It is my right as a landowner to file any permit I want. It is the right of anyone who feels that the project will affect them to participate in the application process.”
‘Since we didn’t get an answer to the question we asked …
we will consider filing an application for the permit.’
O’Neil Sand & Gravel
O‘Neil said she believes that that the GMUHS board would “oppose any project. … we present. … As a taxpayer, I believe they should oppose any project since they have a responsibility to the school and taxpayers. … The burden of proof that this won’t harm the school is on me.” She reiterated that she will continue considering whether to file an application for a permit to allow blasting.
On Saturday afternoon, Bourque responded, ‘The board informed the O’Neils that there wasn’t support to change the board’s position from the last permit application. The board was opposed to blasting — among other things — and nothing has changed.”
The question of the school board’s stand on the quarrying came up during Thursday’s board meeting, when board member Arne Jonynas asked what stand the 2001 school board had taken on the issue. O’Neil replied that the board did not oppose the project.
WHAT WAS SCHOOL BOARD STANCE?
But later, Paul Dexter, who helped lead opposition to the proposed quarry, read from the 2007 Act 250 decision that denied the request. He quoted a sworn affidavit from then-Supervisory Union Superintendent Edward Brown: “Based on the fact that the O’Neils represented that there would be no blasting on the property, that extraction would be completed within six years and the site would be reclaimed, I did not recommend the Green Mountain Union High School Board to seek party status to the Act 250 proceeding.
“If I had known that the gravel operation was to include blasting, increase rock drilling and crushing and would extend beyond the six years, I would have advised the … Board to seek party status to the Act 250 proceeding.”
‘If I had known that the gravel operation was to include
blasting, increase rock drilling and crushing
and would extend beyond the six years,
I would have advised the … Board to seek party status
to the Act 250 proceeding.’
Former supervisory union superintendent in 2007
In the 2010 Environmental Court decision, Judge Meredith Wright issued a summary judgment, upholding the contention of GMUHS and others that the O’Neils could not meet the noise standards of ”barely audible” along all of the GMUHS property, which includes an extensive network of trails.
O’Neil has contended that Irene recovery efforts have allowed her company to re-evaluate whether work on the site falls within noise levels that they believe would have given them an Act 250 permit. Since Irene, O’Neil said, they have been working five or six days a week, 10 hours a day, using two crushers and making 180 truck trips daily.
She told Thursday’s school board meeting that, in walking the school’s nature paths with Town Manager David Pisha, and Selectboard members Tom Bock and Arne Jonynas, who also sits on the school board, ”You couldn’t hear it.”
Jonynas added that he couldn’t “hear anything until 100 yards (away) and, at the property line, you could tell what was going on.”
”We would ask,” O’Neil implored the school board, ”before we invest a lot of time, if you would actively oppose any blasting at all.” O’Neil suggested that blasting would take place when school is not in session “maybe June, July, August … maybe on a Saturday morning.”
PERMIT WITHOUT BLASTING?
Board member Geralyn Donahue asked O’Neil, “If the school board is opposed to blasting, would you not go forward?”
O’Neil responded, “If the school board is solidly opposed, we will not submit a permit that includes blasting … but there is a need for aggregate.” In 2001, the O’Neils were permitted to extract on a limited portion of their 139 acres. In 2006, they returned with an amendment request to include blasting and drilling. O’Neil told the board that her company hopes to extract 40,000 cubic yards annually.
Also during the meeting, parent Carrie King presented the board with a petition bearing 87 signatures from residents of Chester and the school feeder towns of Cavendish and Andover. The petition asked the board to “refrain from supporting such projects … based on the O’Neils’ own evidence that the proposed quarry noise would be too loud at the school.” The petition also cited the Environmental Court and Act 250 decisions, which it called “final and binding, and Hurricane Irene does not change this result.”
Two residents, one who lives above the site on Quarry Road, the other who lives across the river on Green Mountain Turnpike, questioned the idea that the noise can’t be heard.
”The crushers just go on for hours and hours. … I can hear it. And I have heard it many times over the past two months. … There will be many days when you won’t hear it and many days when it will be annoying and distracting,” said the Quarry Road resident.
And the Turnpike resident said, “There are days when I can hear it all those hours.”
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Dollar General DRB Hearing
At 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14, the Chester Development Review Boardwill be hearing testimony from a number of people who will talk about the potential impact of the proposed Dollar General Store and how it fits in with the Town Plan. Claudio Veliz of Smart Growth Chester is urging residents to come out to the meeting. “Whether you are for it or against it,” he said, “the more that you know about the situation, the more you will understand why Smart Growth Chester believes there are better alternatives. We also want people to understand that this isn’t about partisanship or ideology. It’s about what is good for the community.” The DRB keeps a pretty tight ship when it comes to these meetings, so they will end by 9 p.m. At Town Hall, 556 Elm St.
Andrew Ladd Scholarship Benefit
The Chester Rotary is holding its 3rd annual wine tasting and auction to benefit the Andrew Ladd Scholarship fund from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19. It will be held at the Fullerton Inn on the Green. Help celebrate the life of this beloved citizen and further his legacy of community involvement, educational support and a lifelong spirit of giving.
Taste Gourmet Food & Wine
A wide variety of beautifully prepared hors d’oeuvres will be served throughout the auction, accompanied by an array of regional and national wines for tasting.
Take Home Treasures
Local and regional businesses generously donate many wonderful auction items to the event and our animated auctioneer will bring plenty of excitement to the evening! Included in the auction is the “Stars of Grace” quilt, pictured, made by Denise Caron, secretary of the Chester Police Department, and Shelly Holley of Log Cabin Quilting in Chester. It is 89-inches square.
Support Local Education
You’ll enjoy this wonderful evening while supporting the Andrew Ladd Scholarship Fund that awards Green Mountain Union High School students annually.The website to support this event can be found here. Tickets are $30 per person and can be purchased at the Inn Victoria, 321 Main St., or the Chester Bookworm, 330 Main St.. or by telephoning 802-875-5886 or e-mailing email@example.com.
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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor for 30 years, having worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.