BRISTOL — Playing host to a wide range of interested residents, the Bristol Town Planning Commission had a packed house at its April 19 meeting as they once again took up the issue of gravel extraction in the proposed town plan.
The commission got off to a quick start with opening public comments from Jim Lathrop, owner of a proposed gravel pit that sits within the downtown district that the proposed town plan may exclude from mineral extraction. If gravel extraction is not allowed on that proposed site, it would be open for use as a residential development as it sits on a broad meadow overlooking the Adirondacks to the west.
Lathrop made the accusation that developing his piece of land for residential use would bear more cost than benefit.
“I don’t care how many houses you allow up there it’s not going to pay for these development costs. So, basically you’ve taken a piece of land and removed all development potential whatsoever,” said Lathrop.
Planning Commission Chairman Tom Wells, however, later countered that notion in an separate interview.
“The point that he’s making that you have to extract that gravel (to build roads for development) as a cost, which would therefore make it prohibitive to develop anything other than a gravel pit, I think is fundamentally wrong because with any other development, including residential, you would be able to extract gravel as a process of building the road and sell the gravel,” said Wells.
The land referred to is part of the Downtown District. Residents participating in the planning commission’s Town Meeting Day poll decidedly voted to prohibit extraction in this area by a 70-30 percent vote.
Agitated with the situation, Lathrop asked, “What does that leave when you do this (prohibit gravel extraction)? That leaves a piece of land that’s either worthless or the Lathrops have the monopoly on gravelling for the next 35-40 years. Is this good for the town? Is this good for the cost of gravel in the area if we pretty much controlled what’s going to be graveled? … Is this good for business?”
Wells again disagreed with the notion that the Lathrops would have a gravelling monopoly in Bristol, or that it would be bad for business.
“As he (Lathrop) sees it … everybody else would suffer… and then he’d have a monopoly. The only two areas where we’re talking about prohibiting extraction are the downtown area and the conservation zone,” said Wells. “Any other pit operations that want to operate other than in those two zones are not stopped. So, I don’t know where his monopoly argument came from.”
During the meeting, Lathrop continued as he turned his argument to jobs and warned the planning commission not to prohibit gravel mining on his property.
“You aren’t going to get jobs if you zone it and lock it all up,” said Lathrop about the town plan prohibiting his proposed gravel pit. “And, believe me, you might not get what you think you might get in the end because I’m not going to take this lightly if we get zoned out … This is your job as a planning board to make things work … You should listen to me because I have a vested interest.”
The planning commission then held a planned discussion with the Bristol Conservation Commission on getting more information about the lands in the Conservation District.
“Right now, when we’re talking about gravel extraction we’re doing it a little on the abstract,” said Wells. “We know that there’s a lot of sand and gravel in our town, but we don’t have very good information about where it is and where it isn’t.”
The current maps the commission has are “very inaccurate,” said Wells.
The conservation commission suggested that the town works with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to conduct studies that would produce more accurate maps.
Summarizing the conservation commissions recommended course of action, Wells said, “What they were talking about … are hydrologic, which is water, and geologic studies, which (would analyze) both the ground and rock and what they call the overburden deposits. Over burden deposit means everything over the rock, which would be the sand, the gravel, and everything else.
“If they did that, we would know much more accurately where we have sand and gravel and where we don’t … Regardless of how you feel on this issue … it’s excellent factual information. Instead of dealing from just an assumption… we’ll know very specifically where hydrologic, ground and overburden deposits exist.”
The commission was surprised by the low cost of the study. According to Kristen Underwood of the conservation commission, it would cost the town $6,000 per geological quadrant. Bristol falls in between two geological quadrants, so two separate studies would be necessary.
“I’ve been told in the past that this would cost us in excess of $50,000. That’s really beyond the ability of Bristol to afford,” said Wells. But, with this knowledge in hand, he said, “it’s an attractive” proposition.
Commissioners John Elder and Kris Perlee formed a subcommittee to collaborate with the conservation commission to draw up an application and set the geological study in motion. The impetus behind this subcommittee is that it won’t impinge on planning commission meetings and will allow the commission to continue carrying out its other duties — and work on the town plan — in a timely fashion.
When more information is collected, the planning commission will hold a public meeting about the study’s findings.
“Ultimately the planning commission said let’s endorse this and get it moving,” added Wells.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected]