We may be about to witness something none of us have ever seen before, which is a large piece of public land with full public access and heavy public use being sold to a very private wealthy person who has stated he does not want the public on this land again after he buys it.
The land I am talking about is a block of 1,600 acres owned by the town of Proctor and situated in the town of Chittenden, north of the Chittenden Reservoir. This land, which is used by hikers, hunters, cross country skiers and snowmobilers, is home to several well-developed, road-width trails, complete with bridges, all of which would be closed to the public by this prospective buyer. There is also a 50-acre projection of land on the east end of this property through which Green Mountain Club’s Long Trail passes, which will thankfully be preserved for public use by a legal document drawn up many years ago if this transaction goes through.
The prospective private buyer of this 1,600-acre public land is a successful real estate investment expert from Florida, formerly of Vermont. Several weeks ago, he contacted the Proctor Select Board through his representative, and offered $1.5 million for this land which, by the way, the town had not been thinking of selling before this unsolicited offer hit their desk. The potential buyer’s representative gave the town only a few short weeks to agree to sell for the offered price or the offer might be withdrawn.
It is unrealistic to expect the owners of a very expensive piece of real estate, especially owners who had not been planning on selling, to accept an offer so quickly. It takes months, not weeks, to properly value the property by getting the several different appraisals necessary for such an expensive, large property. To make a proper decision, there needs to be appraisals of development potential, lumber potential, water resources, as well as biological and recreation appraisals.
The water rights alone on this land probably have jaw-dropping value in the future. This 1,600 acres was originally bought in 1929 by the village of Proctor to provide its residents with a large quantity of clean, reliable water. There is a place on this property called “Boiling Spring,” which indicates the capacity of this land to deliver water.
A document from Proctor states that in 1962, during a drought year, 25 million gallons of water bubbled out of this land and were consumed by Proctor. Bottling companies are constantly looking to pay big money for a proven source of water bubbling from deep in the ground in an area protected from pollution. Such water resources are getting much harder to find throughout the country.
But what is most valuable about this land has little to do with money but, rather, with its location. This 1,600 acres stretches east to west from the spine of the Green Mountain range to the valley of the Furnace Brook, and is bordered on the north by National Forest and on the south by more National Forest, as well as Mount Carmel State Forest and Chittenden Town Forest. The Agency of Natural Resources Atlas optimistically shows this Proctor land as being permanently preserved along with the National Forest land, state land and Chittenden town land.
The Proctor land is a necessary cog in the preservation of the high priority wildlife habitat and natural forest block of this entire area of Vermont. The Trust for Public Land, an environmental preservation group, has stated that they, representing the Green Mountain National Forest, would like to have a chance to pay fair market value for this Proctor land.
When serious concern has been voiced about future development on this land if he were allowed to purchase it, the prospective buyer refuses to commit to saying “no,” but will only say he, “has no plans.” But he has not been shy about stating clearly he will no longer allow people, such as hikers, Catamount Trail cross country skiers, hunters, VAST snowmobilers or bird watchers to be on the land, even on the developed trails.
By the way, on the 500 acres next to this piece that the buyer bought in 2018, he has prevented the Rutland County Audubon Society (according to one of their members) from doing the investigative studies they have a deeded right to do, and have done in the past before he bought it. What a pity if this individual is allowed to buy this public land.
Justin Lindholm lives in Mendon.