KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
SHAFTSBURY -- After a year’s worth of public outcry, a moratorium, and calls for more civility at public meetings, bylaw amendments regarding commercial composting were approved by the Select Board after a public hearing on Monday.
The bylaw limits commercial composting facilities to the town’s industrial zones, causing some to fear that the town has essentially "zoned out" commercial composting in Shaftsbury, which would violate state law. Art Whitman, owner of Whitman’s Feed Store, raised the point, sparking a minor debate about the extent of the town’s role in providing opportunities for private companies to do business.
Amendments approved after hearing
Whitman also said that in 2014, towns will have to have a plan for managing waste that can be composted, and the town could find itself beholden to a company in another town for such a service.
The debate over composting began last year, when TAM Inc., a waste hauling service which also manages the town transfer station, applied for permits to build a commercial composting facility along Route 7. TAM eventually withdrew its state and local applications and is currently pursuing an option for a facility in Bennington. Meanwhile, the Shaftsbury board passed and extended a composting moratorium, giving the Planning Commission time to research composting facilities and draft bylaw recommendations.
Whitman said the industrial zones in town are either too small to hold a facility, or they are at the sites of former gravel beds, where contamination of groundwater is a possibility. "In reality, we’ve zoned out and restricted the possibility of a composting facility in the near future," Whitman said, adding that in addition to not being legal and putting the town in a tough spot in 2014, it has a lost opportunity for job creation.
He suggested allowing composting in rural residential zones under restrictions.
Board member Carl Korman said he feels that the town has created industrial zones, and others, and has outlined the rules for development within them. He said the town has done its due diligence and has no more responsibility to ensure the composting industry has suitable land to work with than it would an iron smelting operation.
Whitman also said the law’s definition of "backyard composting facility," seemed large at 100 cubic yards per year. He said that would be the equivalent of a person producing a pickup truck full of compost weekly for a year. He suggested somewhere around 10 cubic yards might be better.
Kathleen Geneslaw, a Shaftsbury resident, said the Agency of Natural Resources does not regulate compost facilities smaller than 100 cubic yards. Board Chairman Lon McClintock said while that’s true, it does not mean the town cannot be more restrictive.
McClintock said that Whitman raised an important point about the composting deadline, and that the town should learn more and consider its options given it will have to handle the compost waste stream sometime in the future.
The board made a number of suggestions to the commissions proposed bylaw, all of which were considered minor and would not require the commission to meet again, said commission Chairman Chris Williams.
The two substantial changes involved clarifying what a "professional engineer meant," holding that it would be a person licensed by Vermont with knowledge of the composting industry, and what a "baseline standard," is for such a facility.
It was agreed that given the changing nature of composting technology, it would be the responsibility of the developer to prove the facility does not exceed common industry standards for things like odor.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr