Plymouth talks inclusion, guns, and a bond

At the June 20 Plymouth Selectboard meeting, the board discussed a host of issues, ranging from guns to parking lots. Photo provided

PLYMOUTH, Vt. – At the June 20 Plymouth Selectboard meeting, the board appointed Beth Graves-Lombard as new interim town clerk until the next election, with Jaclyn Olmstead recently resigning from the position. The sheriff’s contract was also approved.

Board member Keith Cappellini suggested appointing three members for their cannabis control board: one selectboard member, one zoning board member, and one citizen. He said they can always add members to the board if they see fit, but establishing one now will help the Town of Plymouth regulate, approve, and “police” cannabis retail establishments based on the town zoning regulations. Mike Coleman from the zoning board volunteered.

Debra O’Loughlin brought up Amherst Dam, which was discussed earlier this year. It is privately owned by O’Loughlin and her husband Michael, and the structure is deteriorating and could fail, washing homes downstream in the event of a major storm. Removing the dam could cost the O’Loughlin’s around $400,000, while repairing it would be even more costly. It was previously discussed that state funding would possibly be available. Though removal is most cost effective, that won’t help maintain the water level of the lake. O’Loughlin asked if the town would like to take on the dam, as the state would not. Chair Jay Kullman reported, that it is a “long-term liability that we’re not interested in.” O’Loughlin announced that they have “no choice but to take steps to remove it.”

Todd Menees requested the town adopt an inclusion statement – a few paragraphs that says the Town of Plymouth promotes equal treatment for all, and “formally [condemns] all discrimination in all its forms.” Gov. Scott made this declaration last year for the state of Vermont, but each town must choose whether or not to adopt it individually.

Cappellini questioned if the town needed this resolution. He referenced the new movie “Top Gun: Maverick,” noting that it showcases American values, and in the Constitution it says all men are created equal. Kullman countered, saying systemic injustice still exists. Adopting an inclusion resolution doesn’t cost the town anything and isn’t a binding contract, “But it’s a welcoming statement.”

Al Wakefield, a resident of Mendon and former U.S. Air Force pilot, provided a personal experience to those in attendance. He goes to the cemetery every year for the Fourth of July ceremony, and requested a plot to be buried next to the Calvin Coolidge site. The caretaker offered a different location, “Next to [a] black fellow.” Wakefield said he “was not personally offended,” but he “graciously refused.”

Residents unanimously decided they would like to vote on the matter. Menees must start a petition to get the declaration onto the November ballot and the town will warn the vote.

The board moved on to the discontinuation of Mecawee Pond Road, town Highways 39 and 70. Tina Fletcher read a proposal from the six landowners impacted: Tina and Mark Fletcher, Clifford and Elizabeth Harper, and Sam Giddings and Cheryl Davis. They respected the town input at the previous meeting, and in order to keep the town right-of-way while protecting the privacy and rights of the land owners, they made the following requests: discontinue only the small portion of Highway 39 that leads up to the Fletcher’s property, about 1/10 of a mile that is their driveway; the town provide signage and barriers at the base of the road and at the washed out areas preventing people from attempting to drive up the road; and a sign at the intersection of the road and the Fletcher’s driveway that shows where Mecawee Pond road continues to the right. The Fletcher’s already installed a sign that their private property goes to the left, and they are willing to pay for additional signage or fencing around their surveyed property. The Fletchers and other owners don’t want a legal or moral liability for people that decide to hike that unsafe area.

Most residents and board members agreed these requests were reasonable, but a small parking area needs to be designated for those who need to safely turn around or wish to hike the area. Board member Rick Kaminski suggested a few hundred yards up the road, which would impact a portion of the Fletcher’s property. Fletcher suggested the base of Highway 39 and intersection of Hale Hollow Road; “If they want to hike, they can hike the whole thing, and there’s already a decent parking area there,” on the town’s right-of-way.

Kaminski, also road commissioner, scheduled another site visit for June 21 to determine the best location for a turnaround so they can finalize the overall decisions for the road.

Discussion turned to the use of Johnson Farm Road and a portion of the 60 acres of town forest from a recent request from the ATV club, whose parking at the trailhead in Reading is limited. Kaminski stated the town would not be investing in this project; the ATV or snowmobile club would have to organize it.

Debra Pool voiced her disinterest in the ATV club “trumping the residents who live [there],” saying it would bring a lot of unwanted noise, and she did not want a parking lot abutting her property. Other residents agreed that they enjoyed the peaceful area, and did not want to attract more people, not just from Plymouth, traveling up and down the road. Pool said it should be open to the town to discuss, and there may be other opportunities for the location that are less disruptive.

Bruce Pauley then discussed Plymouth being a gun sanctuary town, and his concern that the resolution was never put on the agenda, warned, or put it to a town-wide vote.

The Resolution for the Defense of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms was presented by Cappellini back in March of 2020, and was adopted by the selectboard members at the time, consisting of Rick Kaminski, Jay Kullman, and Shawn Bemis. It states that Plymouth recognizes the right to bear arms as described by both the Vermont and United States Constitutions, including: “The lawful use of firearms in defense of life, liberty, property, and in defense of the State; the safe and responsible use of firearms for hunting and utilitarian purposes; and the safe and responsible use of firearms for sporting purposes including Olympic sports.” It declares that federal and state laws attempting to restrict those rights are void under this nonbinding resolution.

Though Pauley is a gun owner himself, he still worries about the state of the country, and all of the mass shootings that have taken place. He recommended rescinding the resolution and putting it to a vote whether the residents want Plymouth to be a Second Amendment sanctuary town.

Cappellini said the same resolution has been passed in other towns in the state, and he didn’t agree that it needed to be rescinded since it is already a part of the Constitution. Kullman stated that as a resident and a gun owner, he didn’t feel consulted before the resolution was proposed.

Kaminski said he didn’t believe it was an issue if people in Plymouth own guns or not. He said, “Before I rescind a vote I made, I need to hear from townspeople.”

The board did not rescind the resolution, but agreed to get more input from the residents to determine whether or not Plymouth should remain a Second Amendment town on a future ballot.

Kaminski then provided an update on the extremely over budget building renovation project. At the last meeting, Cappellini suggested using the community center for town offices as it may help keep the budget down. Upon investigating this proposal, Kaminski ran into a lot of issues.

If they demolish the office portion of the current building, they still need to rebuild the roof on the highway and fire department garage area. By eliminating the offices, they must find another location within the garage area for bathrooms and a room for training emergency services. The emergency and fire department staff were allegedly, “Extremely unhappy with those proposals.”

The current community center houses the historical society and a childcare facility, both of which would have to relocate, and they were very dissatisfied with that possibility. That building is also the only location that didn’t flood during Irene, has a generator, and is the only emergency shelter for the town. Kaminski said, “To go forward with plan like that, we’re going backwards as a town.”

The only two viable options are to renovate the current building with the original $843,000 approved construction budget, or to get a bond and increase the budget to completely renovate the building as planned. Partial renovation would include the roof, mechanicals, and other smaller items, but would not include replacing doors, windows, the special insulated wall system, or the foundation. To do everything on the list, the town would need and addition $800,000. They can get a bond for that amount with a 20-year loan, and pay about $60,000 per year at a 3.9% interest rate, but the town would also save an estimated $15,000 per year in energy efficiency.

The town will vote on the project at the November elections.

Plymouth Selectboard meetings are the first and third Monday each month at 6 p.m. at the town hall and on Zoom.

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