PAWLET — Slate Ridge owner Daniel Banyai has complied with a court order that he hire a surveyor, and partially complied with an order to allow officials to inspect the unpermitted firing range in person, Pawlet’s town attorney said Wednesday.
Attorney Merrill Bent termed the visit as “partial compliance” because she said the officials were supposed to have the benefit of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), per court order. Bent said Banyai insisted the party proceed on foot instead.
Bent said she was present for the May 10 visit, in addition to Banyai, two members of the Pawlet Select Board, Rutland County Sheriff David J. Fox, officers from the department, Banyai’s attorney, and two of Banyai’s friends.
An email to Banyai’s attorney, Robert Kaplan of Burlington, was not returned by press time Wednesday evening.
The hiring of a surveyor and the visit were conditions set by Environmental Court Judge Thomas Durkin on April 18 in addressing a contempt of court filing brought by the Town of Pawlet against Banyai.
Durkin had given Banyai 10 days to hire a surveyor and 30 days to allow a visit, and warned that failure to do so could result in jail time.
“I will caution Mr. Banyai that if you do not abide by this interim order in any respect I will then immediately ... consider any request made by the town of Pawlet to have you jailed until you comply,” Durkin said.
Durkin was ruling on a contempt of court motion brought by the Town of Pawlet against Banyai. It claimed he had ignored a previous Environmental Court order that he halt unpermitted firearms training activities on his property, tear down unpermitted structures, and pay outstanding fines.
Last month, Banyai paid $52,965.35 in fines to the town — the original $46,603 assessed by the Environmental Court, plus interest. The town had gone to Rutland Superior Court seeking to foreclose on the property for non-payment.
In 2021, the state Environmental Court ordered the Slate Ridge facility closed and fined Banyai for noncompliance with Pawlet’s zoning ordinance.
Banyai appealed the ruling to the Vermont Supreme Court, arguing that the fines were not justified because he claimed he had a valid permit; that the court had allowed some evidence to be admitted improperly, and that the fines were excessive. The high court, in a decision issued in January, affirmed the Environmental Court’s decision.
As for the ATV access, Bent said the court had stipulated the vehicles could be used to access the 30-acre property.
“The judge issued an order that the town could access the property by ATV,” Bent said in an email. “[Banyai] asked the judge to modify the order to prevent the town from using ATVs and to require the town to access the property by foot. The court denied that request, issuing a second order specifying that the town could access by ATV.”
“In spite of that, the town was advised that it would not be permitted to access the property by ATV, no matter what the order said,” Bent wrote. “The town decided to proceed on foot, and deal with the failure to comply in the contempt action.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.