WILMINGTON — Select Board members were pleased with a Hermitage Club program to incentivize volunteerism but not so happy with what they perceive to be ongoing permitting delays.
Eight Hermitage Club employees are currently firefighters, according to the company. Two staff members are on Wardsboro's department and six are on the West Dover department. Two employees just joined Wilmington's Beautification Committee and one employee went for a ride-along with the Deerfield Valley Rescue as they wait for certification.
At the end of last month, a member of the Hermitage Club staff asked about joining the Wilmington Fire Department. Declining numbers of volunteers have recently caused worry among local officials — especially with development plans at the Hermitage Club's private ski resort on Haystack Mountain: a 93-unit hotel is being proposed.
Mike Quinn, general manager of operations at the Hermitage Club, showed the Select Board a letter written in March about how employees could receive $1,000 annually for joining local fire and rescue squads.
"I think the original permit condition was a one-time initial award of $1,000," Quinn said Wednesday, referring to a "fire agreement" between the town and the company. "We decided to make it an annual award to just try and entice that so it's not just a one and done."
Select Board Chairman Tom Fitzgerald called the incentive "very generous."
Details on the program were posted at all of the company's time clock locations after the previous Select Board meeting, where board Vice Chairman John Gannon raised concerns about the Hermitage Club not acting as a "good corporate citizen." He worried there had been no follow-up in regard to the fire agreement which calls for the company to help with recruitment via incentives.
"We are trying to do everything that we can to encourage participation," Quinn told the board.
"That's a great update. Thank you," said Select Board member Susie Haughwout.
Gannon was not at the meeting.
A policy created two years ago made it so that Hermitage Club employees could leave work to respond to an emergency "as long as that doesn't present a safety situation at the mountain," Quinn said. Training and drills also are covered if a staff member is participating during work hours.
One incident caused a few employees to show up to work late. Quinn said the company "clocked them in" during the call.
Delays on construction have made a few local officials comment about "overreach" on the part of the District #2 Environmental Commission. The environmental commission is reviewing the Hermitage Club's Act 250 permit application for a master plan. Ski resorts in Vermont are required to have these permits.
"It's becoming absurd at this point. We would like to see this move forward," Fitzgerald said. "We have a lot riding on this."
"Our permit specialist and our attorneys feel the same way," Quinn said. "We just keep receding in hopes that we get the project over the goal line. It's death by 1,000 cuts."
Select Board members were not sure whether a letter voicing concern about the permitting would help. But they are putting together a draft to be discussed at an upcoming board meeting.
Previously, a recess order from the environmental commission slowed down plans to begin construction this summer. More details were needed on various aspects of the properties, prompting the Hermitage Club to sell the Deerfield Valley Airport and the East Tract, which is a set of villages and lots between the airport and Haystack.
Now, the environmental commission has asked the company to participate in a third hearing.
"It's unfortunately scheduled for Oct. 11 so we're going to sit neutral for another five weeks," said Bob Rubin, vice president of construction and development at the Hermitage Club.
The environmental commission requested the attendance of the new owners of the East Tract and Deerfield Valley airport. East Tract owner Comtuck LLC and airport owner 4V8 LLC will be co-applicants for the permit.
"We're still trying to understand that." Rubin said. "Because our position, of course, is we don't own it. We sold it. We presented corrective deeds to be part of the permit. But we will go to the hearing on Oct. 11 and we will discuss that."
Rubin said a letter from the Agency of Natural Resources "essentially says" ANR and the Hermitage Club are in agreement with Act 250 criteria that looks at air pollution, headwaters, wastewater disposal, water conservation, floodways, streams, shorelines, wetlands, impact on water supply, soil erosion, rare and endangered species, and necessary wildlife habitat.
"We also believe that we've made peace with Windham Regional (Commission) for our master plan," Rubin said, referring to the group that had questions on the proposed expansion of the airport runway. "We feel like we're ready to go. We feel like we've given everyone the information they need."
Call Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.