The O'Neils, who live in Chester and own O'Neil Sand and Gravel LLC, which extracts gravel for roads and driveways, are hoping to gain public and state and local government support for a downsized gravel pit on 139 acres south of Green Mountain Union High School.
Since Tropical Storm Irene ripped open roadways throughout the state in late August, the O'Neils have been extracting gravel on that property to help in the reconstruction efforts under a state emergency permit. That permit terminates on Nov. 15.
Members of the Select Board said they saw a benefit in opening up the property to gravel extraction since the town relies on gravel for repair of its many dirt roads throughout the year and a local source would be less costly.
But it was obvious from the beginning that memories of the contentious battle that opened deep rifts in Chester five years ago were bubbling to the surface. At that time, some residents objected to the noise, dust and truck traffic that the gravel pit would generate.
“Must the citizens, the town go through this again?”
A number of residents protested that the project was even being considered again after being struck down by an Act 250 review and an Environmental Court appeal five years ago.
Chris Curran said, “The O'Neil gravel pit shouldn't have been allowed to be heard the first time. … the only ones to win were the lawyers. Must the citizens, the town go through this again?”
Amy O'Neil said her company intends to file an application for the gravel pit with the Chester Development Review Board and the state. She said preliminary plans are to extract 40,000 cubic yards of gravel per year, as opposed to the 100,000 that had been proposed earlier. She added that a crusher would be used six times a year, a hammer twice and that blasting would be done not more than four times a year and only when school is not in session. She added that truck traffic would be no more 180 truck trips a day, and could be less if residents objected.
“We are open to constructive criticism and any reasonable request.”|
O'Neil added, “We are open to constructive criticism and any reasonable request.” She added, “We'd like to know what your concerns are.” The O'Neils hope to speak to the GMUH School board at its next meeting on Thursday, Nov. 10.
Objecting to the Select Board hearing the O'Neil proposal, Paul Dexter, who was involved in the earlier battle, said, “The Environmental Court case ultimately ruled it was not legal, that it violated conditions. These conditions still exist and will run with the land forever.” He then urged the board not to “expend the resources listening to this again. Why would anyone in this town want to go through this again?”
Dexter added that the condition that stopped the project in the first place was the noise level. Resident Bruce Chase said, “All the noise testing that could be done was done. The courts have decided.”
But O'Neil said, “We are not looking to overturn any conditions. This is a different project.” She added that through their experience with Irene recovery work, they learned that the noise levels that were of much concern five years ago were actually less than the sound modeling results, which she called a “very good scientific guess. ...What we have seen on Friday and in the past two months is reality. It is barely audible.” On Thursday, she explained that she parked in the school parking lot to run decibel testing there during crushing and that the results were “barely audible,” which indicates that the sound could not be differentiated from other background sounds.
Over the objections from some residents that the gravel pit was even being addressed by the Select Board, chair John DeBenedetti said, “Because of what happened with the hurricane and the convenience of it, I'm open to more information.” He cited concerns with the Department of Public Works budget.
Board member Derek Suursoo said, “I am in support of a source of local gravel. I wish it were in a different location, but we have a very serious need. We need to have a discussion and that's what I am supporting.”
“...we have a very serious need. We need to have a discussion
and that's what I am supporting.”
Select Board member Derek Suursoo
“We'd be remiss in not looking at every source,” said member Tom Bock. “I want ... an investigation to see if it's the same project as five years ago.”
Arne Jonynas said, “It is a totally different project, it's much smaller. I think it is worth looking into. The board concluded by agreeing to send a letter to the school board - accepting the suggestions of several in the opposition on its wording - to alert them that the O'Neils wished to address the issue on Nov. 10.
Julie and Bob Pollard of Chester Hardware came before the board for permission to use Cobleigh Field, The Green and The Pinnacle for the annual Winter Carnival, set for 6 p.m. Feb. 17 to 5 p.m. Feb. 19, 2012. It was an easy unanimous vote. To hearty applause, they also announced that the Vermont Chamber of Commerce voted the carnival one of the Top 10 Winter Events in Vermont.