SALISBURY — The Salisbury Development Review Board is trying to solve an issue with a local dairy farmer and the housing he provides for his farm workers.
Randy Quesnel owns a dairy farm on Creek Road in West Salisbury and employs a number of farm workers who live on the property. The problem is, Salisbury Zoning Administrator Jon Filion has issued at least two notices of violation to Quesnel for housing the farm workers in inadequate quarters that violate local and state statute.
According to Filion, the workers are living in a building that has no septic system and are using a portable toilet. The original violation was filed in March 2012, and Filion said the workers were moved, which cleared up that violation. But a new violation was created because the workers were moved to a recreation vehicle on the property, which is also considered inadequate housing.
The workers are now back in the original housing area with the portable toilet, and Quesnel appealed the second violation. The DRB held a public hearing on the issue on Sept. 19. Salisbury DRB member Sue Quesnel recused herself from the proceedings as she is related to Randy Quesnel and his wife, Jean.
The issue first presented itself in September 2011 and Filion acknowledged that he had been delaying taking swift action on the case.
“I admittedly have been dragging my feet on this because I know what farmers are up against, and I apologize to the town,” he told the DRB at the hearing. “But I also have an obligation to these (workers). They may have better facilities than where they came from, but that doesn’t mean this is acceptable, and it’s illegal.”
By law, any occupied dwelling must have a working septic system and clean water source.
“We have standards,” Filion continued. “And those standards have not been met. It’s a year now that these people have been living in substandard housing and something has got to be done.”
Randy Quesnel didn’t attend the Sept. 19 meeting but his wife, Jean, was there to field the board’s questions. She defended the workers’ housing, taking issue with Filion’s description of the area as a “milk room.”
“It’s not a milk room, it’s a bunk house,” she said. “It has a full kitchen, a shower, a bedroom and a living room.”
Quesnel went on to say that a state fire inspector had visited the property months ago and signed off on the dwelling, only requiring that one window be made larger. But no one with the town of Salisbury ever called to request an inspector, and there is no paperwork to prove the visit ever took place. The board asked Quesnel for the fire inspector’s report, but she said she did not have it with her.
It also came to light that the water in the workers’ kitchen and shower is gray water, meaning it is water generated from other uses, such as laundry, dishwashing and bathing. It can be recycled on-site for uses such as landscape irrigation, but is not legally acceptable for use in an occupied dwelling.
Filion said even if the Quesnels resolve the septic issue, they would need to apply for a change of use permit for the bunkhouse in order for it to be a legal residence.
Quesnel said she and her husband had an engineer draw up plans to install a wastewater system that would run across the road from the farm where they had planned to put a trailer for the workers to live in. She said she cannot afford to implement that plan, and that now they are in the process of drawing up new plans to construct a septic system for the bunkhouse area where the workers are currently living.
With no wastewater system and no certificate of occupancy, DRB Chair Deb Hurlburt asked if the Quesnels could house the workers somewhere else until the septic issue is corrected.
“I have no other option,” Quesnel replied.
DRB member Mary Anne Sullivan then asked Quesnel what actions she would like the board to take and on what grounds.
“Let me put this system in and then I can get a change of use,” she replied, adding that she has a limited window of time with winter on its way.
“We need to have it done by Nov. 1,” Quesnel said.
But Hurlburt was not satisfied.
“We can talk about all the systems and timelines we want,” she said. “But you have farm laborers in inappropriate housing and I’m not OK with that.”
Sullivan then asked Quesnel if she admits that the farm is in violation of Salisbury zoning regulations.
“I’m not going to answer that,” Quesnel replied. “I’m not a lawyer. I don’t think what we’re doing is wrong.”
Sullivan was clearly dissatisfied.
“We don’t let people live in houses without wastewater systems,” she pressed. “Do you deny you violated the regulations?”
After a lengthy pause, Quesnel answered.
“No, I do not,” she said.
Rather than go into deliberation, the DRB agreed to make a Sept. 26 site visit to the bunkhouse, then deliberate and issue a decision at a later date.