State stays the course with Hermitage Club
WILMINGTON — The Hermitage Club is not any closer to state approval for construction on projects planned to begin this summer.
The company requested the District #2 Environmental Commission issue findings for development at Haystack Mountain, where it runs a private ski resort. Partial findings were wanted for the company's airport expansion plans and proposed upgrades to a nearby road.
An Act 250 permit detailing the company's "master plan" is needed to move forward. The plan is required for ski resorts, according to a regional plan for Windham County.
The DEC issued its memorandum of decision Wednesday, saying it had already "disposed" of the issue in a pre-conference hearing report and order back in December.
"Because the applicant did not file a timely appeal of that order, it is a final decision and the doctrine of res judicata bars us from addressing it here," the DEC wrote.
In December, the DEC said the regional plan's policy contained mandatory language that individual development projects must be reviewed and approved as part of a master plan. The commission said it would not issue a permit for a 93-unit hotel proposed near Haystack until the hotel and associated work — "clearing, grubbing, and stockpiling fill for other work such as work in the stream buffer, ski trail, and condominiums" — were reviewed and received positive findings in a master plan application that "addresses critical natural resource and other cumulative growth issues."
The company also asked the commission to speed up the filing deadlines contained in the recess order issued on June 2. Several items, seeking clarification or more input, were requested by the DEC with Aug. 12 as the date for the company to submit any rebuttals.
The Hermitage Club made a motion to alter the recess order, saying projects at Haystack "suspended for nearly a year" were critical to the project's survival.
"Given the confusion inherent in the combined motion to alter and 41-page response to the commission's recess order, the commission declines to accelerate the filing deadlines contained in that order," wrote the DEC.
Information pertaining to the items in the recess order are still expected to be in the commission's hands by July 15. An appeal of the decision can be filed with the Superior Court Environmental Division within 30 days.
Jim Barnes, company president, updated Hermitage Club members on June 2.
"What we and the entire state of Vermont are experiencing is a lack of administrative support to process, file and respond to this information. Our professionals and other residents report what used to take 30 to 60 days to process now takes four to six months or more. Many of our coordinators and agency people are dedicated and trying to do the best they can, and we appreciate their efforts. However, the administration hasn't replaced positions where administrative people have retired or left, which leaves few to even open, let alone read the mail," Barnes said. "Of the 22 items that are in the recess memo only three actually pertain to what we would describe as the mountain area development. Nineteen items pertain to the east track/airport expansion and east track road. The three on the mountain area development are pretty simple to address as two have been submitted and one requires a site visit, which is occurring this week."
The Hermitage Club said if the DEC declined to issue partial findings of fact, the company will need to consider divesting itself of ownership of the road and airport "to third parties in arms-length transactions which will likely occur in the very near future."
Contact Chris Mays at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.
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