MONTPELIER — For almost three hours Tuesday, Rutland County residents and members of the slate industry, some sporting shirts emblazoned with “5th Generation Vermont Quarriers,” testified before the Act 250 Commission regarding potential changes to Vermont’s land use law.
The new regulations would establish extraction baselines, repeal dormant quarries’ grandfathered status, require permits for changes to quarries while requiring quarry owners to inform others of their mining intentions and registration, and be added to the natural resources atlas.
“We believe these changes are unnecessary and will place a heavy burden on the slate industry,” said Craig Markcrow, owner of Vermont Structural Slate. “Slate quarries are valuable, legacy assets to all Vermonters — why enact legislation that will make them far less likely to be viable?”
The general stance of quarriers was that most of the companies in the slate industry are well-intentioned and belong as a permanent fixture in the Vermont landscape.
“My company was actually incorporated in 1866,” Markcrow said. “Even our teams in the town of Fair Haven are known as the ‘Slaters.’”
Annette Smith, of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, showed a Google maps sky view of the western Rutland County slate quarry areas, with wide swaths of gray quarries and deep blue pits next to them. Wells resident Lou Magnani, of Castleton, spoke about how quarry owners should try to be “good stewards” of the land and make efforts to reclaim the land they mined by filling the holes back in.
While Beverly Tatko, of Sheldon Slate, Sean Camara, of Camara Slate, Charlie Brown, of Brown Orchards and Slate, and Richard Hill, of Greenstone Slate, indicated there were fewer complaints, problems and waste, and rare incidents of property damage, West Pawlet residents Kim and Josh Gaschel told a different story. The couple moved to West Pawlet almost two years ago.
“Nothing against slate, this is not going to prevent them from doing their business,” Kim Gaschel said as she called for removal of the Act 250 exemption for slate quarries. “(This is) just to ensure we have protections as homeowners.”
The house the Gaschels found for their family of five was a fixer-upper at a good price with apple trees and a big back yard.
The problem was, Kim Gaschel said no one informed them that the quarry just behind their backyard could reopen at any moment.
Nine months later, it did.
“(Blasting) was every day, including weekends,” Kim Gaschel said of quarrying during the fall of 2017.
The quarriers bulldozed over wetlands and harassed the family, Gaschel said, and neighbors told her wells had previously dried up as a result of quarrying.
But the town wouldn’t help her, Gaschel said, and instead called the interaction a “neighborly dispute,” which meant she would have to take on the deep-pocketed industry on her own.
“There was no way of knowing,” Kim Gaschel said. “You need to be 500 feet from a residence to fire off a gun, but they can use high explosives next door to where my children are playing with no regulation?”
The Gaschels repeated that they had nothing against the slate industry, but they, their neighbors and their neighborhoods had no shield from the financial and physical imposition of re-opened slate quarries, and called for Act 250 to remove the exemption so slate quarries would have to file for permits in order to blast.
“We are the future of Vermont,” Kim Gaschel said. “Our kids are the future of Vermont. The families are the future. This is the past of Vermont, and it’s to be respected. … If you want people to come to this state, you have to give us some kind of recourse.”
Markcrow said the restrictions would limit quarries in that their nature is to grow. He said quarries must be allowed to remain considered “open” and available for retrieving certain slate varieties depending on public demand.
Removing the exemption and imposing permit requirements could make quarrying altogether unfeasible, Markcrow said, and the families operating the quarries don’t possess the means for legal counsel or engineers to come in and make sure their operations abide by the proposed new standards.
As quarry owners were required to register their quarries in the mid-’90s, he argued, providing adjacent and prospective property owners notice of quarrying operations should not be their responsibility, but be understood or learned by the property owner.
The vast majority of slate quarries have blasted with no problems, Markcrow said, and without the proposed changes to Act 250, he said the industry was already regulated enough.
“We are aware of a few neighbors, less than 10, probably more like five, are vocally opposed to the slate industry,” Markcrow said.
He went on to explain that western Rutland County and some of Washington County, New York, was home to most of the viable slate in Vermont, and as slate runs in established veins though the Earth, there is no risk of any other quarries popping up anywhere.
The industry already grapples with foreign imports and economic struggles, having to cut staff, and in the case of Maine, close slate quarries down, he said
“We estimate that there are around 300 people (in our area) who work directly with slate companies,” Markcrow said. “Our region is the most important slate-producing region in the country.”
The slate companies, as opposed to the granite and marble companies, remained family-centered operations, selling most of their slate products — especially the green, red, purple and gray slate that could only be found in Vermont and New York — over state lines.
“Slate production should be encouraged, not restricted,” Markcrow said. “It’s a recyclable material, it’s natural and it’s beautiful.”
Water and stone are used to extract the slate, Markcrow said. He said quarriers practice “slow quarrying,” being as gentle as they can, to produce sustainable roofing materials, countertops and other amenities.
Tatko, 84, said the slate companies needed a break in regulations to be able to compete with international markets. She said the slate community takes care to keep the water they use in good quality and small amounts by recycling it over and over again, while also constantly submitting samples for testing.
However, the Gaschels said they felt powerless to defend themselves against other slate companies that were free to blast 150 feet from their property lines.
“You need zoning for a certain height of a sign, a certain height of a windmill,” Josh Gaschel said, referring to the mountains of slate waste piled up on the sides of Pawlet roads. “Yet you can build a mountain (of slate) on any side you want without any permit?”
Every week, 469 tons of food scraps are produced in Rutland County, according to the county solid waste district.
To better visualize that, said Carl Diethelm, outreach coordinator for the Rutland County Solid Waste District, know that one cubic yard of food scraps amounts to about half a ton.
“It’s pretty crazy,” he said Monday at a meeting of the Hunger Council of Rutland County. “But the cool thing is, not all of that is going to a landfill, a lot of it is being fed to pigs or chickens, being composted and even donated.”
Diethelm cited 2014 studies done by the district, and presented information on food waste along with Anne Bijur, education and sustainability consultant for the Waste Management and Prevention Division of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.
The Hunger Council of Rutland County is one of several in the state. Comprising dozens of local organizations ranging from churches to businesses, the councils are facilitated by Hunger Free Vermont, a statewide nonprofit group dedicated to tackling food insecurity.
The council met Monday to talk about how to better reduce the amount of food being wasted.
The goal behind Vermont’s 2012 Universal Recycling Law, which in part will see all food scraps banned from entering landfills by 2020, is to produce less food waste and recycle, compost or divert it to people or animals who can safely eat it.
Bijur said since the law took effect, more food has been diverted from landfills each year, but the goal is to see that level off by creating less waste at the source.
Diethelm said the waste district’s studies didn’t look at how much food is being donated to food shelves or fed to farm animals, but it’s thought there’s potential to increase the amount. He said most of the food waste, according to the studies, is coming from industrial and commercial sources, which is good, as these sources are easier to work with on diverting food waste than residential sources.
He said some questions do remain, however, such as how much food waste is still edible by humans and animals.
“I don’t know how we might go about estimating that, but there’s definitely plenty of potential to still recover or rescue food from being wasted,” Diethelm said.
He said there are barriers to rescuing, recycling and diverting wasted food. Some entities perceive it will take too much time and energy, and sometimes their perceptions aren’t wrong. To be eaten by humans, food has to be handled according to certain standards, and not everything can be fed to animals. When it comes to dealing with large corporations, sometimes there’s difficulty making things happen on a local level, but this isn’t always the case, either.
“It was nice to touch a little bit on the residential and the personal, and I think especially in our rural communities that’s what it comes down to in terms of the food waste reduction,” said Jesse Pyles, co-chairman of the hunger council and executive director of Smokey House Center in Danby. “We also saw in your slides so much of the problem is institutional and commercial and manufacturing, and that’s where so many of us come into play in diverting food that could be eaten by people or by animals.”
Near the end of the meeting, the council broke into groups to discuss working with different types of food waste producers, from large institutions such as hospitals and schools, to grocery stores and private homes.
Pyles said based on discussions he’s heard, the Vermont Foodbank, a statewide nonprofit that distributes food to local pantries and shelves, is a major player in connecting food producers with charitable food distributors.
Challenges remain with regards to logistics, communication and legal liability concerns, Bijur said, speaking for the group she met with.
It was agreed by consensus that a workshop about how to work with food producers to set up a donation and diversion system for food scraps would be useful.
A Rutland man is saying the city needs to redo town meeting because the city report was late.
Mark Nowakowski filed a lawsuit in Rutland civil court this week claiming that the tardiness of the city report, which came out the week before the election, kept voters from being able to make informed decisions about the mayor’s race and the various budgetary articles. Everything on the city ballot passed, and Mayor David Allaire fended off a re-election challenge by Michel “Champlain” Messier.
“It’s just time for the city of Rutland to take back the city of Rutland, make it great again,” Nowakowski said. “This place was beautiful. We had manufacturing jobs and fairly inexpensive rentals back in the mid-’90s. I came back nine years ago. I’ve been sitting around watching, and I’ve finally had enough.”
The lawsuit does not challenge the results of the aldermanic race, in which every incumbent seeking re-election was returned to the board.
“I feel most of the aldermen are good people,” Nowakowski said.
Nowakowski, who said he is representing himself, offered a litany of complaints about the city, ranging from the condition of the roads to the court system’s handling of repeat drug offenders. He had little to say about how his perspective on these issues was altered by the city report, other than to say it seemed everyone in city government was asking for more money but not doing their jobs — one of those jobs being putting out the city report on time.
Vermont statute says local elections may be contested by anyone who was eligible to vote who can demonstrate errors in the conduct of the election, fraud or “that for any other reason, the result of the election is not valid.” Will Senning, director of elections at the Vermont secretary of state’s office, said he is unaware of a court ever having overturned a vote under the statute, and that attempts to overturn elections based on tardy town reports are rare.
“I get asked about them a lot, and it’s like people are considering it, but then aren’t pulling the trigger,” he said.
Senning said claimants have to show not just an error, but demonstrate that it affected the outcome.
The city charter says the city report is to be published on or before Nov. 15. City Clerk Henry Heck said the city has not made that deadline in almost a decade.
“One time, in my tenure here, under the Louras administration — ‘09 or ‘10 — is the only time I remember it coming out in that time frame,” he said.
One year, while Christopher Louras was mayor, the report did not come out until after town meeting.
“It usually comes out some time after that November-December time frame and is out, 95 percent of the time, January-February,” Heck said.
Senning said most towns have a deadline of 10 days before town meeting, but even that later deadline gets missed. He said while he was not familiar with the specifics of Rutland’s charter, town report deadlines are typically unrelated to statutes governing warning requirements for local elections.
“These two things are distinct in the law,” he said.
Allaire said he never made an issue of it when he was an alderman and Louras — his predecessor and political rival — was publishing the town report after the deadline.
“I never really gave it any thought,” he said. “When it came out, it came out.”
Allaire said he is responsible for the report, but that his office staff consists of a single assistant he shares with the city attorney and they are too busy preparing the budget during the latter portion of the year to have the town report ready by mid-November. Getting the report out on time, he said, would require more staff. He also said that all the information in the report is available to the public upon request.
Allaire declined to comment about specifics of the lawsuit.
BENNINGTON — According to media reports, Southern Vermont College planned to appeal its loss of accreditation, leaving open the possibility the small independent college might continue despite announcing earlier this month that its doors would close at the end of the current semester.
But that plan has already fallen apart.
On Tuesday morning, David Evans, president of Southern Vermont College, said college officials were withdrawing the school’s appeal of the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) decision to withdraw SVC’s accreditation.
The appeal was based on conversations that the SVC board of trustees and Evans were having with a potential partner, who might have considered acquiring the college.
In a statement, Ira Wagner, chairman of the board, said the trustees felt an “obligation to explore any avenue that would enable SVC to continue.”
“Filing the intent to appeal our accreditation decision last week was part of keeping that option alive for these discussions,” Wagner said.
Evans said Tuesday the potential partner, based in New York City, met with SVC officials recently
The plan to move forward with the appeal was contingent on the potential partner producing the money SVC needed by Monday afternoon.
“And they did not. As part of the board vote last week, the board approved the approach to NECHE for the appeal, but if the money didn’t come, to withdraw the appeal and turn our attention to the other things we’re trying to do,” Evans said.
In his statement, Evans defined those other things as “our top priority: educating our students and completing their academic year.”
“I am sincerely sorry that our filing of the appeal has raised hopes that have not been met,” Evans said in the statement.
A fundraising campaign, started about two weeks ago, had raised about $18,650 toward a $75,000 goal as of about 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Evans said he appreciated the people who wanted to support SVC, but said he believed the college would need to approach NECHE with a minimum of $5 million in cash “and a pretty solid plan for the next couple of years” in order to convince the accrediting organization to change its decision.
One of the most public supporters of preserving the college is Evans’ predecessor, Karen Gross. On Tuesday morning, she tweeted, “I adore underdogs. I adore sports. I adore March Madness. Some said what I’m doing is Hail Mary 4 @SoVtCollege. Worked 4 Doug Flutie. Worked in basketball w/ seconds left on clock: Pacers v. Knicks. Does toughness of throw/shot mean u don’t try it? No.”
Later on Tuesday, after learning that SVC officials were withdrawing their appeal, Gross said she didn’t believe that was the end of attempts to save SVC.
“I am not giving up yet. The final nail is not in the coffin yet. Now, clearly there has to be a change of strategy. SVC is important, not only to the students and to the faculty and to the staff, it is important to Bennington County. It’s important to the region. It’s important to the state. We have to put our heads together and be bold and be innovative and creative to come up with a way to save this college,” Gross said.
Gross said she was aware that some people wanted her to go away.
“I feel a deep commitment to trying to save this remarkable institution, and I am not going away. I will go down fighting,” she said.
Over the past few days, several news stories have said SVC was appealing the loss of its accreditation. Evans said the news Tuesday that the appeal was being withdrawn had been “very stressful.”
Evans said he didn’t realize the appeal to NECHE was public information and on Friday, when news stories were being investigated, he and his leadership team were returning from a meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire. Friday was also the last day before spring break.
“We had some significant challenges, and I think it added stress to everybody to have this announcement up in the air and the question of what was really going to happen,” he said.
Like SVC, Green Mountain College in Poultney has announced it will close at the end of the current school year. Also, College of St. Joseph was given until April 1 to prove its financial sustainability to avoid closing by August.
“He didn’t appear to me to be facing any challenges or mental impairment, other than holding fairly extreme views.”
Attorney Richard Peters, who was assigned to represent the man accused in the Christchurch, New Zealand, massacre that left 50 Muslim worshipers, men, women, children, dead at their mosque. — B8
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is offered a plea deal to plead guilty of soliciting, perform 100 hours of community service and attend classes about the ills of prostitution. A2
A French photographer has taken up an extended role as artist in residence at Rutland’s 77 Gallery to produce a documentary about the resilience of Rutland people. B3
Emmy Award-winning guitarist Freddi Shehadi with an all-star musical ensemble. 7-10:30 p.m. Dorset Playhouse, 104 Cheney Road, Dorset, email@example.com, 867-5570.