WESTMINSTER -- The Vermont Natural Resources Board has authorized the use of stadium lights gifted to the town for Hadley Field, provided that most of them are equipped with downward-facing shields.
The NRB issued a land use (Act 250) permit to the Rockingham Town School District and the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union justifying the installation of the outdoor lighting system at the football and baseball fields of Bellows Falls Union High School. The lights are the first in school history.
According to the land use permit, there can be no change to the design, operation or use of the project and no further alteration or development on the land with a permit amendment. The lights can be used a maximum of 46 nights a year and must be turned off by 11 p.
The District 2 Environmental Commission found, following a quasi-judicial hearing, that the project complies with Vermont state statutes.
Westminster Town Counsel Lawrence Slason said the Act 250 permit is great news and the town had supported the condition of having shields on the lights.
"That achieves a fair balance between the safety of the athletes against the needs of the adjourning residential area," he said, adding that the permit is consistent with the recommendation of the town. "It's a positive for the town and a positive for all the young athletes who use the field."
WNESU Superintendent Chris Kibbe and BFUHS Principal Chris Hodsden could not be reached for comment Tuesday. David Clark, the chairman of the BFUHS Board of Directors, said he is looking forward to watching baseball games under the lights, which are standing but have not been turned on since 2012. Clark said the Act 250 permit should help secure a new zoning permit from the Westminster Developmental Review Board after the previous one was revoked due to a deviation.
The installation of the lights was made possible by the financial holdings of longtime Westminster resident Alvin L. Southwick, who died in August 2011. Leading up to his death, Southwick asked long-time friend Frederick Yates to help him put together his final will and testament. Yates, who had known Southwick for more than 50 years, agreed and as a result BFUHS became one of about a dozen entities to benefit from Southwick's gift and was soon equipped with stadium lights for the first time in its history.
The saga regarding the lights started with Westminster resident Ruth Gale in August 2012, when she complained the lights were so bright they were shining into her rear bedrooms and bugs were attracted to a deck of her house. In February and March of 2012, Gale wrote letters to the town to express her opposition to the lights because she said they could cause additional traffic during baseball games. She said she is the closest abutter to the lights: her home is along the driveway leading up to the school.
Gale's complaints started a domino effect, as the contractor hired for the installation job apparently did not make sure all necessary permits were in place before installation. The one permit, which was revoked, issued by the Westminster DRB was not enough for the project -- an Act 250 permit was required. According to then Town Manager Matt Daskal, DRB members revoked the zoning permit because they believed the light levels were in excess of what the permit allowed. They also were concerned about the lights' glare and structural integrity.
Soil sample borings taken from Hadley Field in August 2013 indicated the installed poles hoisting the stadium lights pose no threat to anyone. They ensured the installation methods used were appropriate for the soil type and conditions at the field, even though the soil type is not the same as originally assumed. The field had been closed for about a week when it learned Techline, Inc. -- the company that set up the lights -- could not guarantee the safety of the installation it made in the spring of 2012, but the BFUHS Board of Directors voted to reopen it following the soil sample borings.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.