Halifax quarry decision going to Environmental Court

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HALIFAX — The Zoning Board denied a permit for a schist quarry, leaving the applicants no other choice but to challenge it.

"They have appealed that decision to Environmental Court," said April Hensel, Vermont District 2 Environmental Coordinator. "Our (Act 250) application has not been decided."

Hensel was referring to applications submitted by Ashfield Stone co-owner Jerry Pratt and Russell Denison, owner of the approximately 11 acres at 5076 Jacksonville Stage Road proposed for the quarrying of stone. The local decision was issued on Oct. 17 while the state's Act 250 permit application is still pending.

Resident Keith Stone previously told the Reformer that Denison owned 1,200 acres on the road and paid taxes on the property for years. He said Denison was unsuccessful in attempts to donate the land to the National Rifle Association back in the 1990s.

"(Denison) has spent a lot of money on this to get it going," Stone said in April 2014. "He's been at this for longer than a few months."

Construction and operation of a schist quarry was outlined in an application for a conditional use permit, which would be needed to host a "resource industry" on the property. The term is used for activities involving "the primary processing of agricultural or forestry products," according to the town's zoning regulations.

"The applicant stated that there might be up to four employees at the site on any given day. This is not a definitive commitment by the applicant to provide jobs to Halifax residents," the Zoning Board wrote in its findings. "The quarry would not enhance 'Halifax's small-town rural character.' Rather, an industrial activity, such as a quarry, would degrade the character of the Conservation District."

The noise, the board wrote, "could impede the efforts of residents who rely on the relative quiet" of the district. Developing there would eliminate habitat and natural resources would not be protected.

The quarry plan came under attack throughout the process. Several Act 250 hearings were held by the state's District Environmental Commission, beginning with a site visit in September 2014, while the Zoning Board started reviewing a permit application in June.

"We'll remain active in opposing the quarry," said Sue Kelley, a member of the Halifax Conservation Group that hired attorney David Drake to represent them during local and state hearings on the project.

Opponents of the project handed over an analysis of the project stating that road maintenance would increase by approximately $93,000 annually.

"The applicant did not provide analysis to counter the derivation of the estimate," the Zoning Board's decision stated. "The estimated increase in road maintenance costs is nearly 8 percent of Halifax's projected fiscal year 2016 budget of $1.2 million."

The last Act 250 hearing was held in March, said Kelley, noting that hearing recess orders were issued after each session. The orders were requesting more information and the last one sought questions raised by the Agency of Natural Resources.

"The first step was for Denison to respond. He simply never responded," said Kelley. "I guess they finally thought, 'What happened to his application?'"

Her group is waiting to see how Denison might respond, she said.

"Somehow, I think the Act 250 decision is going to be coming out in the next few months," said Kelly, who expects that will happen before the court decides on the appeal.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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