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O'Neils Propose Downsized Pit

Is a curtailed project on the same property the same as an earlier proposal or is it a new project in and of itself? That is the question surrounding a proposal posed by Amy and Mike O'Neil Wednesday night before the Chester Select Board and a small group of concerned residents.

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?”
Chris Curran

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.”|
Amy O'Neil

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.


The comment section below presents you with the opportunity for civil discussion.


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.

--Cynthia Prairie



Below is the actual email from Amy O'Neil to the town managers, dated 10/22. Last night 11/2 details were in contrast to what was written. The O'Neils are attempting to get another bite of the apple...

From: Amy O'Neil

To: David Pisha ; Richard Svec - Cavendish Town Manager

Sent: Saturday, October 22, 2011 5:30 PM

Subject: OSG pit

Hi David & Rich,

Mike and I are seriously contemplating filing an ACT 250 permit to extend operations in the pit beyond the time (whatever it may be) extended by ANR due to the Irene disaster. We hope to continue to have a source of gravel and construction aggregate for the needs of the Towns of Chester and Cavendish.

The biggest issue with gravel extraction at that site is the condition that "noise levels from all aspects of operations occurring on the site shall be no louder than barely audible at the school buildings and areas used for outdoor recreation and education". In testimony previously presented to the Environmental Court the school maintained that ALL areas on school property should meet the barely audible threshold. This resulted in the environmental courts denial of our application on the grounds that some operations would exceed the barely audible threshold.

We would submit a new application for amendment with operations not exceeding our original permit. Those operations would limit gravel extraction to 50,000 CY/year, use of a crusher limited to six times per year, use of a hydraulic hammer to two times per year and operations limited to April 15-December 15. We would ask for drilling and blasting but no more than six blasts per year during times when school is not in session. In addition, we will make the argument that conditions caused by TS Irene have impacted the area to such an extent that the need for aggregate in the local area likely outweighs the need for a condition of "barely audible at ALL school locations".

We have walked the school property while two crushers were operating simultaneously with a loader and an excavator AND there was an excess of 180 one-way truck trips per day. We have determined that operations were INAUDIBLE on the walking paths, all playing fields and at the school buildings. Operations are barely audible in the student parking lot. Operations are audible in heavily wooded locations near the property line that do not appear to be currently used at all by educational activities or recreation. We have invited members of the board to walk the school property now while operations are still allowed in order to verify our findings. We do not intend to hire any more sound experts or commission any additional sound modeling.

In order to make a decision about whether we should go forward seeking a permit we intend to approach the school board during a meeting properly warned with O'Neil Sand & Gravel on the agenda and let the board know what our intensions are. Given this new information we will ask the board if they feel they can support some level of aggregate extraction. If they indicate they can, we will proceed. If they appear to oppose any extraction we will not proceed.

Before we approach the board it will be helpful to have a statement from both of you about the importance to the Towns of Chester and Cavendish of the particular source of gravel at OSG. Specifically how important it is and has been to the recovery efforts from Irene and to future town needs. Would you be willing to write a statement in your own words, including whatever information you think helpful as to how important the source is?

The next school board meeting is November 10. If you have any questions, please give me a call.


Editor's Note: I have been assured by Ms. Chase that the contents of the above letter have not been altered in any way and were copied and pasted from a forwarded email from the Town of Chester.

Thursday, 03 November 2011

That is, in fact, my complete email. Thank you, Ms. Chase for taking the time to share. Any future application plans are still being developed. Your input and dialogue is greatly appreciated.

Thursday, 03 November 2011

Good Luck to the O'Neils. Almost ALL businesses should be encouraged by the town of Chester. If you haven't noticed, there is almost no opportunities for the younger generations. I don't know what specific population statistics show, but I do know that G.M. used to be a D-II school in the '70s with graduating classes near 100. When I graduated in '02, we had 67. I believe '11 was 55. No opportunities for work means no opportunities for life. Just a fact.

Friday, 04 November 2011

It would be interesting to know how many thousands of dollars in diesel fuel and labor were saved fixing the damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene, by using local pits like the O'Neils. I know of at least 5 or 6 pits that were allowed to open to fix the damage and, without them, we would have been in a real bad situation in Southern Vermont. I applaud the Chester Selectboard for standing behind the O'Neils and would hope the GMUHS School Board would do the same, as they try for a new permit. The O'Neils are good people who run a good business in Chester, and provide good paying jobs for local people. It sounds like they are trying to be as accommodating as they can be to make this work.

Tuesday, 08 November 2011

This issue was settled through the lengthy, costly and legal process that ended in the Environmental Commission ruling denying the O'Neils' permit. You can read about the case on my town website, which dealt in-depth with the subject as I had party status in the Act 250 hearings.

Such an operation clearly has no business in Chester, especially next to the town's most valuable piece of property.

Tuesday, 08 November 2011
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