CAVENDISH, Vt. – In anticipation of upcoming budget discussions, the Dec. 9 Cavendish Selectboard meeting began by hearing from several local nonprofit groups regarding their appropriation requests for fiscal year 2020.
Representatives from Black River Good Neighbor Services, Women’s Freedom Center, VNA & Hospice, Black River Valley Senior Center, Windsor County Mentors, Vermont Adult Learning, Windsor County Youth Services, SEVCA, Okemo Valley TV, Council on Aging, and Green Mountain RSVP all spoke about the services they provide and highlighted their contributions to Cavendish residents over the past year. The Selectboard made no decisions on their requests at this meeting. Budget discussions are slated to begin Tuesday, Jan. 7, from 6-8 p.m.
Once presentations were completed, public comment immediately turned to the proposed Tierney Road quarry with several residents sitting in the audience including Maureen Savage, owner of the proposed quarry location.
Currently in litigation, the Savages have proposed to sell a small parcel of their land, under an acre in size, to Jason Snow of Snowstone Excavating, for quarrying stone by hand. Tierney Road residents contend that the project will not be limited to a single, one-acre parcel and that the Savages are attempting to circumvent the oversight of Act 250 by developing the quarry one under-acre parcel at a time.
The proposed quarry has been an ongoing issue for Cavendish, most recently with the Selectboard decision, based on their legal council, not to challenge the tax reduction awarded to Bruce and Linda Watson on their 2018 taxes.
For the tax year 2018, Bruce and Linda Watson grieved their taxes based on a proposed quarry applied for at the end of Tierney Road and won their grievance resulting in the town of Cavendish refunding their 2018 taxes in the amount of $982. In their appeal, they stated the possibility of a mining operation in the future will have some effect on selling a house on Tierney Road. Watson’s dispute is that property assessment and land values can drop 30% as soon as permits for industry use are announced.
First to speak was Tierney Road resident Kem Phillips who read a prepared multi-page statement. According to Phillips, his appearance was in response to a recent letter to the editor published in The Vermont Journal by Maureen Savage.
Phillips outlined a rough timeline of events leading up the present, which included several times detailed information on the quarry project was not provided, despite an agreement to do so. He also disputed the Savages’ claim that the stone would be split by hand and requires use of a landscaping truck.
Phillips instead referenced a list of multiple large-scale trucks and equipment provided by Jason Snow during a May 17, 2018 Vermont Superior Court Environmental Division hearing. Primary to his letter was the concern that further parcels would be quarried in future and that the neighbors are skeptical of the claim that the Savages will not quarry further.
Phillips referenced a statement by Justin Savage in the May 17 hearing in which he says that he would consider expand the quarry if it were “financially advantageous for him.”
“The Savages should produce a legally binding document that forever prevents any quarry beyond the one acre currently proposed,” Phillips said.
In her response, Maureen Savage said that when her husband Justin was asked if he would divest some of his land in future, that his answer that he would entertain an offer was for selling a piece of property, not for developing a quarry. She also said that she has already offered to “deed restrict” their property. Deed restrictions are private agreements that restrict the use of the real estate in some way and are listed in the deed. This designation would not restrict selling additional parcels for quarry development, however.
Savage spoke of her frustration in the Selectboard’s decision not to appeal the Watsons’ tax reduction decision citing “excessive errors” in the tax appeal. “For the Selectboard not to challenge this, it seems that you’re taking the temporary, easy way out that will have effects for the coming years in this town.”
Savage asked the Selectboard to look at the facts, seek the facts, and not be bullied or forced into making hasty decisions. She said that resistance to their quarry was “based on misinformation and fear” stemming from the McLean quarry fight 15 years ago, not on the information of today.
Tierney Road resident Michael Harrington also spoke after providing trial transcripts of Justin Savage’s testimony to the Selectboard so they would have it officially for their records. Harrington then read directly from the transcript: “Question: Is there a chance in the future that you are going to sit down and negotiate with somebody else for the development of other stone quarrying parcels on your land?
“Justin Savages testimony answer, ‘Have to see what the offer is.’
“Question: so there’s a chance?
“So I’m sorry, you can say whatever you want to say…what someone said under testimony under oath makes it so,” Harrington said.
Harrington said that the Cavendish taxpayers would start “getting hip to what’s really going on” with taxes on Tierney Road and surrounding roads within a radius of the proposed quarry going down through tax grievances in the 2021 grand list, translating into between an $800,000 to $1 million shortfall, which would impact the rest of the taxpayers.
Harrington said he would continue to come to meetings to ask what steps the Selectboard have taken to make up for $1 million revenue shortfall in 2021.
Savage again reiterated that they had offered to deed restrict their property. She also said she stands behind everything she has said. She finished by saying that there is not legally anything for the Selectboard to decide since the case is in the courts and out of their hands.
In other business, the Selectboard approved signing a cooperative agreement between the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation and the town of Cavendish to move forward in developing trails in the Proctor Piper Trail Project. There was a discussion of some issues with parking in the winter months that would need to be considered as the project moves forward.
The Selectboard also approved the note in the amount of $195,000 for two years at a rate of 2% to cover an accounting error that was made earlier this year in figuring the Fire Districts tax rate.
The next Selectboard meeting is schedule for Jan. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Town Office.