Quality assurance on gravel pit wanted

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HALIFAX — A group of residents urged the Select Board to commit to hiring an engineer to ensure the quality of a gravel pit before closing on a deal to buy the property.

During a contentious Select Board meeting held by conference call last week, more than a dozen residents called for a special meeting to address the controversial purchase. Board Vice Chairman Mitchell Green said no decisions would be made until a future meeting.

Concerns about the deal were raised — including the fact that one of the two sellers is a board member.

"I believe that this is an embarrassment for the town," said Bob Teree of Halifax. "This kind of self dealing is an embarrassment to modern democracy."

Town Attorney Bob Fisher agreed with residents that the optics did not look good but pointed out that the approximately 10-acre property is next to the town garage. He said the 3-0 votes going into executive session for the deal should have been made by the two members who signed the purchase and sale agreement instead. He explained that the board can go into such sessions to negotiate real estate purchases.

Board member Brad Rafus did not vote on signing the agreement. Rafus and his wife signed as sellers.

Rafus recused himself from last week's conversation before it began. Fisher said it is proper given the potential for a conflict of interest.

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Teree and other residents urged the board to have a geological study to ensure the property would be worth the approximately $100,000 price tag. Part of the contract requires a survey and an environmental assessment to be completed before the closing, which is expected to occur around July 15.

Patrick Eck of Halifax suggested extending the timeline. The project should be put on pause, Teree told the board.

"If we have to take it to court, we will because there was no town approval," Teree said. "It's sleazy beyond belief."

Residents have expressed concern that the purchase was included under a line item for gravel in the fiscal year 2021 budget at annual Town Meeting in March and not presented as a separate article. Board Chairman Lewis Sumner has said the project came up at previous meetings but not at the annual meeting nor the preceding informational meeting.

Sumner anticipates the town will be able to secure more than 16,000 cubic yards of gravel from the Rafus property. Mitchell Green said the town only needs to get 7,000 to make the purchase worthwhile. He defended the deal, saying it was in the best interest of the town. Having the gravel pit in town is also expected to save on transportation costs.

Teree urged the board to hire an engineer who has not previously worked for the town to conduct an analysis of the property. He asked who crossed out an escrow clause in the agreement.

Green said he and Sumner did that in an effort to hold the property for a long period of time. Fisher said the $5,000 deposit would not be refundable and compensate the Rafus family during a period from September to July when contingency work, including the surveying and environmental assessment, would be completed.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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