SHAFTSBURY -- Following a site visit and public hearing on Monday, the Select Board is drafting findings and will make a determination on a Certificate of Location for Brownell's Auto Wrecking Service. The issues include whether to impose additional performance standards on the White Creek Road salvage yard, which was founded in 1949.
Monday's hearing was the first step in a new permitting process required under state law, which changed in 2009, granting new authority to local municipalities. Lack of local approval could shutter pre-existing businesses.
"I recommend you approve Mr. Brownell's application; however, I recommend you condition the approval," said Bill Fisk, an abutting neighbor who requested that water monitoring continue.
While several neighboring landowners expressed concern with traffic and hazardous material runoff, business owner Bill Brownell said his salvage yard was fully compliant. "We've done everything possible to make it a better yard," he said.
Following state inspections in 2009, which cited the business for screening and numerous environmental violations, Brownell said more than $100,000 was invested in new fencing, protective berms, water runoff surveying and "the newest environmental rack money can buy."
That rack, which captures and sorts fluids for recycling before a junk car is crushed, was on display Monday. In the case of waste oil, it's fuel to heat the garage.
"If something's broke, we need to fix it. And I've been fixing everything that's broke to our knowledge," said Brownell, who inherited the business from his father. Today, sons Bob and William Brownell Jr. make three generations.
"The state of Vermont has no issues with this facility," said Bob Brownell, in an interview before Monday's hearing. In fact, he said, Vermont has used Brownell's "as a reference yard for how to properly run a salvage yard."
On Monday, consulting hydrogeologist Paul Miller said Brownell's has been violation-free since 2009, after state environmental inspections found violations and ordered required monthly inspections and annual water testing, with no set end date. "We had quite a list of things to take care of," which have been, said Miller, who's charged with monthly oversight.
Acting as a quasi-judicial body, Select Board members peppered Miller and Brownell with questions regarding daily operations and precautions. Miller said three water test wells monitored shallow groundwater for possible contaminants, placed strategically "down gradient" from Brownell's.
Asked by board member Carl Korman whether he would be concerned if he "left tomorrow," Miller replied in the negative.
Queried by board Chairman Lon McClintock whether he would recommend annual water testing as a stipulation, Miller replied, "It's fair."
Lucinda Fisk commented on the appearance of a sheen and "orange" runoff during heavy precipitation. "We live next door, we bought our house and the business was there. ... My goal is not to tell Mr. Brownell he can't have his business," she said, going on to request a "stringent level of monitoring." Fisk said screening was "very much improved from what it was once upon a time."
Written comments from two additional neighbors voiced further concerns. Rolf Sternberg wrote that screening had been inadequate and that trees ordered in a previous settlement had died. Sternberg and Bill Fisk were plaintiffs in a court action against the salvage yard, which began in 2002 and ended with a settlement in 2004 that stipulated adequate screening of all operations. (Today, vehicles parked outside the fence are used cars for sale, not junkers, according to Brownell.)
But an equal number of residents attended Monday's hearing in support of the business. Michael Biddy said it would be a "cruel use of (the board's) power to throw" Brownell's out.
Brent Peacock pointed to residences in town with multiple parked unregistered junk vehicles, meeting the state definition of a "salvage yard." He indicated that closing Brownell's would exacerbate the problem.
The Select Board ended Monday's hearing by going into a private deliberative session. Town Administrator Margy Becker said Tuesday the board's findings from the hearing would be drafted and presented at a later date.
Bob Brownell said they wanted the public to know that the business was following correct environmental guidelines. "The bottom line is, we're a recycling center."
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