Lights out! Westminster DRB revokes permit at Bellows Falls high school field

Saturday December 15, 2012

WESTMINSTER -- An employee at Techline, the Texas-based supplier of stadium light equipment at Bellows Falls Union High School, said the contractor hired did not make sure all necessary permits were in order before installation began.

This information came to light after the Westminster Development Review Board earlier this month cited a deviation as cause to revoke the town-issued permit allowing the lights at Hadley Field after a resident complained about the glare. It appears the one permit received was not enough for the project.

Town Manager Matt Daskal said board members believe the light levels were in excess of what the permit allowed. He said they were also concerned about their glare and structural integrity and therefore voted for revocation during a deliberative session on Monday, Dec. 3.

The lights were funded by the financial holdings of Alvin 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.

Yates, the executor of Southwick's financial holdings, said he followed proper procedures and requested a permit from the town's Development Review Board to install lights at the baseball and football facilities at Hadley Field. But Westminster Zoning Administrator Bill Jewell told the Reformer that though only one permit is needed from the town, others are necessary from the state level.

Russ Capron, the chairman of the buildings and grounds committee at BFUHS, said "quite a few more" are needed, in fact.

Capron said he didn't get "into this ball game until the eighth inning" but was shocked to realize Yates did not acquire a permit from the state, under Act 250, to put up the light poles. He said it was a frustrating piece of information to learn.

Act 250, also known as the Land Use and Development Law, was passed to balance water quality and other environmental values with economic development. It prohibits certain types of development without first obtaining a Land Use Permit.

A salesperson at Techline, who would only give his first name as Mark, said the company typically makes sure all permits are in order before installation but the specific contractor hired -- whom he declined to name -- must have been unaware of that. He said the company installed the equipment, but the school district hired its own electrician to do the wiring.

"We've done lighting in the state (of Vermont) before and have never come across this problem," he said in a telephone interview.

But Capron said Techline -- and not Yates -- should have known how to go about getting all necessary permits.

Yates blames the DRB for this whole situation and for not informing him about all the necessary permits.

When the DRB concluded the lights didn't meet the specifications of the permit, the high school hired an engineer to retest the lights and present a report to the contrary. Yates said he was later told that wasn't sufficient because the DRB needs to be the one to bring in an engineer.

"I said, ‘Why did you wait to tell me this?' and they didn't want to touch that (question) with a 10-foot pole," Yates said. "This is the first time I've ever done anything like this. They should have informed the green bean, the ignorant person standing in front of them."

Daskal said more details will be provided when the DRB releases its finding of facts but did not know when they might be. Daskal said a new town permit must be applied for before the whole process can begin again.

DRB Chairman Christopher Potter could not be reached for comment and board member Phil Savoy said he had nothing to say on the matter.

Windham Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Chris Kibbe said the permit was in the Rockingham School District's name because it owns Hadley Field. He said BFUHS leases the field from the Rockingham School District.

This all started when Westminster resident Ruth Gale caused some controversy in August by complaining the lights were so bright they were shining into her two rear bedrooms and bugs were attracted to a deck of her house.

At a meeting of the buildings and grounds committee in September, Yates said he went to every residence, two rows deep, that might be affected by lights at the field and he told the Reformer no one had a problem with them.

In February and March of 2012, however, Gale wrote letters to the town to express her opposition to the lights because she said they could cause additional traffic during baseball games.

Gale, who has lived in the neighborhood since retiring in 2004, told the Reformer that Yates tried to get her to sign a petition to approve the lights but she refused. She said she is the closest abutter to the lights, as her home is along the driveway leading up to the school.

Gale said she doesn't like the way she has been portrayed due to her disliking the lights but cannot tolerate their glare. She said it can be seen as far away as Walpole and Charlestown, N.H.

Mark at Techline said he doesn't know how much glare the permit allowed for but said all their installations meet the requirements of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, which he said is the governing authority of sports lighting in the United States.

He also said Techline always opts for the minimum amount of light required.

Kibbe said he has no idea what the permit re-application process will entail but believes this issue will be resolved eventually. He said he does not think Southwick's legacy will be tarnished by this situation and he hopes he is right. Daskal echoed that sentiment, calling the donation "a wonderful benefit to the community."

The superintendent said the revocation of the permit won't affect the high school quite yet because all winter sports are played indoors.

Domenic Poli can be reached at, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.


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