BISTOL — The efforts by the Lathrop Limited Partnership and Jim Lathrop to site a gravel pit on a 65-acre tract off Notch Road and Rounds Road in Bristol were dealt a setback on Tuesday when the District 9 Environmental Commission denied the project an Act 250 permit.
The commission ruled the proposal, which has been tied up in permitting and litigation for around seven years, “would cause and result in a detriment to public health, safety or general welfare.”
The pit plan has been an extremely contentious issue in Bristol, with some opposed to the project in large part because of its proximity to Bristol village, while others have cited the need for gravel and jobs in Bristol. The question of the property rights of the owners of the land on which the quarry would be dug vs. the property rights of neighbors who would be most immediately effected by the operations has also been raised.
It is the impact on the neighbors and the issue of safety on the roads used by gravel trucks that seems to have played the biggest role in the commission’s decision to deny the permit. Vermont’s land-use law says developments above a certain size must adhere to 10 criteria in order to be permitted.
The decision says the Lathrop proposal conformed to many of the criteria, but failed to meet all or part of four criteria.
The quarry “would cause and result in a detriment to public health, safety or general welfare under criteria 8 (aesthetics, noise, visual impacts, and odors), 5 and 9(K) (transportation safety/ pedestrian safety and impact upon public investments), 9(E) (impacts from pit operations, sufficiency of reclamation plan and blasting impacts), and 10 (conformance with Bristol Town Plan and Addison County Regional Plan),” the decision said.
Regarding aesthetics, commissioners wrote that “the noise would not be in harmony with its surroundings, which are predominantly residential in character” and that “the imposition of approximately 14,200 truck trips annually upon the residents of Rounds Road, along with the noise and periodic vibration from blasting and other pit activities … would more likely than not be offensive to the average person.”
“That’s what a lot of this case boils down to,” said Jim Dumont, a Bristol lawyer who represented several neighbors and other parties opposed to the pit. He said the proposed Lathrop pit would have a negative impact on neighbors and neighboring properties because of where it is sited.
“We’re not against gravel extraction,” Dumont said, “it’s gravel extraction in the wrong place.”
Another prominent opponent, Bristol resident John Moyers, concurred.
“On point after point after point, the Act 250 board affirmed what many of us have said for seven years — this pit doesn’t fit in Bristol, and it would have profound negative impact on its neighbors and on the town as a whole,” Moyers said.
Donald Morris, a resident of Rounds Road, which adjoins the proposed pit land, welcomed the commission’s rejection of the permit.
“I didn’t expect an positive outcome for the next 40 years,” he said.
In denying the application, the commission gave a clear roadmap for Lathrop to appeal the decision, which must be done with in 30 days. At several places in their decision, commissioners said specifically what new or additional information they would need from Lathrop if he asked for a reconsideration. For instance, it asked Lathrop to “Identify the vehicles and other equipment that are proposed to use Cain Hill Road for temporary access and the vehicles and other equipment that would have to be moved on or off site via the Jason Lathrop Rounds Road property.”
Another required very specific information on blasting that would take place at the quarry, and reclamation after the four decades of extraction was finished.
Jim Lathrop of the Lathrop Limited Partnership could not be reached for this story, a family member referred questions to the lawyer Mark Hall, and Hall did not return a phone call and email by press time.
Although the decision was technically made by the District 9 commission, which overseas this area of Vermont, the makeup of the commission in the case all came from the District 1 commission in Rutland. That’s because all the member of the District 9 body recused themselves from the case because of conflicts of interest.
Dumont said in the end it didn’t matter which commissioners ruled on the application.
“Any reasonable district commission would have reached the same conclusion,” he said.
While that assertion could be debated, this week’s decision comes after recent decisions by different district environmental commissions to deny quarry applications in Middlesex and Barre. Adam Lougee, executive director of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, pointed out that in all three cases — in Bristol, Middlesex and Barre — the decisions appeared to pivot around the issues of the impact on neighbors and safety on roads.
“It looks like you are going to have to have a lot of isolation from neighbors and have quick access to state roads if you’re going to build a new quarry in Vermont,” Lougee said.
The Lathrop proposal, which at one point early on was approved by the Bristol zoning board and has been contested in Vermont Environmental Court, has brought additional scrutiny on the Bristol town plan. Townspeople this spring rejected an update of the plan that had been years in the making. Many blamed the rejection on how gravel extraction was approached in the document.
A new town plan rewrite is in the works.
“I hope Bristol’s selectboard and planning commission will read this decision carefully,” Moyers sad. “Some members of those boards have dismissed opponents as a vocal and misleading minority, claimed the pit wouldn’t really have much impact, and even tried to rewrite the town plan and zoning regulations to favor the Lathrop proposal. Maybe now, informed by this independent ruling, they will finally be convinced to take an active role in protecting Bristol from this project.”
Lougee sees the push and pull over the Lathrop pit proposal to be repeated in discussions of future gravel quarry proposals in Vermont.
“Gravel extraction is a dirty industry, but we need it for our roads, and we need to have local sources of it (because) it is expensive to truck,” he said.
John McCright is at [email protected]