POULTNEY — After a long year of mediation, negotiations and $20,000 in lawyer fees, Poultney residents Kristin and Jeff Silverman have settled their lawsuit with Hilltop Slate, Jeffrey M. Dunster and K-D Stone Inc., and said they’re moving their young family out of Vermont.
“By moving in with my parents, in Hampton, we will be homeless, and kids can decide where to go to school,” Kristin Silverman said. “If you don’t have the money to go to court, you’re dead in the water.”
When the Silvermans bought their home at 1276 York St. Extension in Poultney nine years ago, their real estate agent told them it was unlikely anyone would resume mining the old quarry abutting their property, which hadn’t been used since the 1950s, Silverman said.
“I didn’t know I signed away my liberties on that day, but I did,” Silverman said. “I wish I could rewind and go back in time.”
But last year, Hilltop Slate decided to mine the quarry, and the Silvermans say the result was a ruined foundation spitting rock and mortar onto their basement floor as it began to crumble and buckle beneath the home, among other issues.
“I loved the ideals of Vermont. I didn’t know this was one of them ... I feel like the state abandoned us,” Silverman said.
After enduring damage to their home that they said was a result of the blasting and mining just 100 feet from their home, the Silvermans filed a three-count lawsuit in January requesting $150,000 for claims of negligence, $150,000 for being a nuisance and a sum equal to three times the value of their home due to gross negligence, according to the lawsuit filed by Burlington lawyer A.J. LaRosa.
According to court documents, the town of Poultney also issued a cease-and-desist letter to the quarry on the grounds that their blasting endangered the highway.
The lawsuit states Hilltop had mineral rights to the quarry and had active operations there between June 2017 and January 2018, and had transferred the right to operate the quarry to Dunster and/or K-D Stone Inc.
The Silvermans went into mediation Oct. 12 with the hope that Hilltop would do what many quarries do when there’s at risk of damaging neighboring property with quarrying activities — buy them out, Silverman said. Silverman could not disclose the amount of the settlement due to confidentiality. Hilltop Slate and K-D Stone Inc. didn’t respond to calls seeking comment.
Silverman said the quarrying company wasn’t interested in buying their property, and taking the case to federal court would require $60,000 more in legal fees, something the Silvermans couldn’t afford.
Even after spending all of the money Jeff’s grandmother left him in her will and the cash they saved to take their two children to Disney World.
“When you’re a mom with little kids, it’s heartbreaking,” Silverman said. “I go to work every day knowing I can take better care of someone else’s kids better than I take care of my own.”
Silverman said the settlement wouldn’t be enough to cover the damage to their home, and they couldn’t see the point in paying to repair the damage anyway, given the fact that Hilltop would resume work in the quarry.
“You’re powerless,” Silverman said. “Quarries have endless resources and attorneys. Normal people like us don’t.”
Now, Silverman said they’re working with PNC Holding LLC, who will send out an assessor to evaluate the property for which they still owe $120,000, and they’ll probably be forced into foreclosure or a short sale of the home.
“I blame Vermont for it,” Silverman said. “It’s the Act 250 exemption. The government doesn’t care.”
According to Act 250, Criterion 10, for a quarry to apply for a permit to operate, the quarry must adhere to the town plan and zoning laws, unless the quarry was registered by Jan. 1, 1997, in which case the quarry would be exempt from all Act 250 requirements. The requirements include town zoning setback requirements from adjacent properties which, for Poultney at the time, was “200-foot setback of all pits, dumps and buildings to any residential building or property line.”
“We’re trying to protect residents who have a quarry operating (near them) so they can enjoy their property line,” Rep. Patty McCoy, R-Poultney, said at a Poultney planning commission meeting earlier that year. “There has to be a way that we protect pre-existing homes.”
Silverman said throughout the legal battle, she was contacted many times by other homeowners who have experienced damage to their homes as a result of quarrying and advised anyone interested in buying a home in Vermont do their due diligence, especially if there is a quarry property nearby, regardless of whether their real estate agent tells them it’s non-operational.
“It’s crazy to me that this many people are affected, and nobody can help,” Silverman said. “There’s this big push to move to Vermont, but do they know what they’re getting into?”