Opponents Say They Were Sandbagged by a Proposed Gravel Pit Hearing in Middlebury | Environment | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Opponents Say They Were Sandbagged by a Proposed Gravel Pit Hearing in Middlebury

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When 70-year-old Dave Warful moved to the Lindale Mobile Home Park on the eastern outskirts of Middlebury three years ago, what drew him to the community was that it was quiet, wooded and serene. He expected it to stay that way.

“When I bought my home, one of the things I really liked about it was the fact that it’s in a conservation district,” says Warful, a retired trucker from New Jersey. “I thought, This is great! No one’s going to build a factory next to me. Now, just the opposite is happening.”

Like many residents of this rustic, 67-unit mobile home park at the edge of the Green Mountain National Forest, Warful fears that he may soon have a large, noisy neighbor to contend with: a 16-acre gravel pit. If approved, it’s expected to extract about 35,000 cubic yards of gravel per year for the next 30 years. Warful says the excavation could reach within several hundred feet of his front door.

“If this thing comes in,” he says, “it’s going to be the end of a nice little community.”

An application filed with the town last year is seeking a permit for a gravel pit that would generate as many as 40 loaded truck-trips per day during its April-to-December operations. No blasting, and only a minimal amount of rock crushing, are supposed to be done on site, according to the application filed by Charles Ferrera of Honolulu, Hawaii, and Ron and Susan Fenn of Danville, N.H.

Other environmental concerns, such as the presence of a deer wintering site and a potential endangered bat roosting area, already have been addressed by the Agency of Natural Resources, according to documents filed by the applicants.

Although the Fenns now live in New Hampshire, their family is from Middlebury and has owned the property for more than a century. It appears unlikely they’ll run it themselves, but probably will lease the property to an outside operator.

The Fenns didn’t return phone calls from Seven Days. Their attorney, Mark Hall, of Paul Frank & Collins in Burlington, declined to comment prior to the hearing except to say, “We think we’ve got a very good project.”

Approximately 70 people showed up for an October 12 public hearing at Ilsley Public Library in Middlebury, many of whom, like Warful, expressed concerns about the impact this pit would have on their quality of life. Dozens had already signed petitions expressing their opposition to the project. Concerns include noise, dust and increased truck traffic along Route 116.

Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington said last week that one of the primary reasons the Development Review Board (DRB) scheduled the October 12 hearing was to accept petitions from interested parties and determine who wants to participate in the permitting process. He noted that many residents have already contacted him to express their opposition.

However, some neighbors who showed up at Monday night’s hearing were dismayed that they didn’t get an opportunity to voice their opinions or even ask questions of the applicants’ experts, who spoke for well over two hours. After the extended testimony, during which an acoustics expert explained the finer points of decibel readings, and a geologist offered a primer on the prehistoric origins of sand and gravel deposits in the Green Mountains, several residents left the meeting in disgust.

Among them was Craig Cook, a retired trucker who moved into Lindale Park last year. When asked about the hearing, he pulled no punches.

“This is a joke! This is not democracy,” Cook said. “There are 68 families in that park who don’t want it there. But the Middlebury [DRB] is dictating what will happen. It doesn’t matter what we say.”

Elise Shanbacker is with the Addison County Community Trust, which owns Lindale Park and several other affordable housing communities in the county. She says that ACCT believes the pit will “create significant traffic and noise disturbances to the residents of Lindale, so we’re opposed to it … It’s already a pretty dangerous intersection as it is.”

Since part of the 70-acre lot is zoned in a medium-density residential district, some neighbors say that an industrial use of the site is “inappropriate.” Several neighbors, including Warful, have complained that the applicants never notified them — Warful claims he learned of it in a letter from a local activist.

Barbara Shapiro, who also lives in the area, is a member of a newly formed citizens group that has already filed two legal motions to stop or delay the Fenn project. Shapiro, who described her group as a “registered interested party,” claims her members only found out a few weeks ago that an amended application had been filed with the town back in August.

“We were supposed to be notified as soon as an application was received and we weren’t,” Shapiro said. “We had to read about it in the newspaper … The applicants have had nine months to put this together. We had barely three weeks!”

However, as the applicants point out in their filings with the town, at least five other existing quarrying operations are located along Route 116 not far from the proposed pit. Two — the Champlain and Carrara pits — are much larger than the Fenn project and directly abut the road.

Though Dunnington doesn’t have a vote on the DRB, he suggests that fighting a quarry near “Quarry Road” will be an uphill battle for opponents.

“I don’t want to take anything away from the concerns the neighbors have and the issues they want to raise,” he says. “But this is a neighborhood of gravel pits.”