BELLOWS FALLS -- Rockingham has issued a Golden Hill Road property owner a permit to fill a retaining wall of 1,200 tires in hopes it will help resolve a dispute the tire wall has sparked.
Municipal Manager Willis D. "Chip" Stearns II told the Reformer the town issued the permit to Sheila Quelch and on Friday the Rockingham Highway Department delivered leftover town-owned ditching material from its garage on Blake Street. Stearns said the material must fill the stacks of tires and get piled around the tires. He said the permit requires the top tire in each stack to be exposed, presumably so everyone is aware the tires are under the material.
Stearns said the delivery of the fill and the material itself will come at a cost to taxpayers, but no more than if the permit had been issued to any other town resident. He said anyone can apply for a permit to fill and get town material.
The municipal manager previously told the Reformer that Quelch got a permit from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources more than a year ago to build a retaining wall out of whole tires and soon developed a stack of 1,200 tires. Several residents, including Tim Knight, complained to the town about the wall’s unsightliness and the potential health hazards it posed. Selectboard Chairman Tom MacPhee said in May that he and his colleagues would do everything they could to get the tires removed. Stearns said he was told 450 tires have been taken away since that time.
"I can’t say that it is resolved. We are assisting the property owner on their request to fill, which anyone can ask for," he said Friday. "And hopefully this will move us closer to closure."
Stearns said by Friday afternoon he had heard from at least five people who were not happy with the issuance of the permit to fill.
Knight, a resident who has attended at least two Rockingham Selectboard meetings in regards to the tire wall, was in Burlington on Friday but told the Reformer he wants all of the tire removed. He said, however, town officials issued the permit to Quelch as a way to try to fix the problem.
"Are we happy with it? No," he said. "Is it in compliance with the law? Probably."
Knight, who lives three houses down from Quelch, said it is frustrating that Bellows Falls can fine people who don’t mow their lawns but Rockingham cannot force someone to remove hundreds of tires from their property. He also expressed discontent with the ANR’s Solid Waste Management program, calling it flawed.
Knight and MacPhee have both said they resent that the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources did not notify the town about the permit it issued to Quelch more than a year. They also want ANR to pay for the removal of the tires.
Gary Kessler, the director of ANR’s Compliance & Enforcement Division, told the Reformer that type of permit is not issued often and will probably be even less frequent now as a result of Quelch’s failure to comply. He said Quelch got a permit for up to roughly 1,800 tires but failed to complete the development of the wall by the issued deadline. Kessler said Quelch was granted two extensions, but failed to meet those as well.
Kessler said ANR’s Solid Waste Management program has asked for enforcement action against Quelch and Kessler said it may include remediation and a penalty.
Selectboard member Ann DiBernardo said she had never heard of a permit to fill, but has no problem with the town issuing one to Quelch because she is not receiving any special treatment.
"This should never have happened and the town is doing whatever it can to make it at least tolerable," she said. "The state will probably think twice before they tell someone they can build a retaining wall out of tires."
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.