Monday July 25, 2011

BENNINGTON -- The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources has granted a construction general permit for a proposed new Walmart on Northside Drive, starting the clock on a 10-day time frame for an opponent of the project to review the permit, and perhaps request another Act 250 hearing to offer additional testimony.

Jonathan Levy, head of Redstone Construction in Florida, has secured permits from the town of Bennington to double the size of the existing Walmart to about 112,000 square feet. He has also received an operational storm water permit from the state Agency of Natural Resources.

Levy was granted a construction general permit from ANR on July 22, the final permit required to obtain an Act 250 land use permit and begin construction. That permit includes stormwater issues pertaining to the construction phase.

David and Maru Griffin, owners of the Mount Anthony Country Club, are opposed to the construction project because of stormwater issues. An attorney for the couple told the District 8 Act 250 commission at the last hearing in May that they will require the allowed review time, and may request to reconvene the hearing.

The hearing has been recessed since May 9, according to District 8 Act 250 Coordinator Warren Foster. If there is no request to reconvene the hearing, a final Act 250 permit decision could be issued by the end of August, he said. All other local and state permits have now been granted.

Foster said the Griffins may request that the hearing be reconvened, but both sides have already presented arguments for or against the permit, he said.

"In many ways the arguments about the stormwater permit have already been made during the previous hearings," he said.

The District 8 Commission could still overrule the ANR permits, but that is unlikely, according to Foster. "Agency permits are given quite a bit of deference so it would have to be something very big," he said.

The construction general permit brings the permitting process closer to completion, but appeals have already been filed and will further delay an already lengthy process.

The first hearing on Levy's Act 250 permit application began was held in April 2009. The project was then idle until May 2010 to allow for various studies to be completed. It was again dormant since then, until the May 9 hearing.

A citizen group has appealed the town permits issued for the project. The stormwater permit issued by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources has also been appealed. And another appeal is likely from the losing side once the Act 250 commission releases its decision on the project.

All of the appeals are expected to be rolled into one case before the state Environmental Court.