PAWLET — A court-ordered deadline for Daniel Banyai to remove structures from his Slate Ridge property — which he used as a paramilitary training facility — is in a few days. But it remains unclear whether the March 25 deadline will be moved, or whether the state Environmental Court will make good on its threat to jail Banyai for contempt of court.
On March 3, Banyai’s counsel filed a motion seeking an extension for the first of three deadlines handed down by state Environmental Court Judge Thomas Durkin. Those deadlines, and subsequent inspection deadlines, were incorporated into Durkin’s Feb. 9 finding that Banyai was in contempt of court for refusing to abide by a March 2021 order to tear down the structures.
The town of Pawlet, represented by Merrill S. Bent, filed a motion opposing an extension on March 17.
According to Bent, the Environmental Court has yet to rule on Banyai’s request for an extension.
“I don’t know what would happen if the court didn’t rule by the 25th,” Bent said.
He added that an inspection has been scheduled for April 3 – outside the window originally set by the Environmental Court in the contempt order, but agreed to by both attorneys for scheduling purposes.
Banyai’s attorney in the matter, Robert J. Kaplan, wrote in a motion filed March 3 that Durkin’s decision gave Banyai just 45 days to deconstruct and move a school building by March 25. He said a firm retained for the job, Larmon House Movers, Inc., has determined it needs an extension, to May 24.
“Given the Court’s corollary directive for imprisonment of Defendant for failing to meet the Court’s established deadlines, it is incumbent on the Court to ensure that there is a strong factual basis for any construction deadline which will lead to imprisonment if not met,” Kaplan said in the motion.
The motion also seeks to remove a set of berms from two former firing ranges from Durkin’s order, because they were not part of the town of Pawlet’s notice of violations against Banyai, and therefore should be outside of the contempt order.
The town of Pawlet filed a motion in opposition on March 17, stating that Banyai has had plenty of time to remove unpermitted structures from his property, as ordered in March of 2021. It also contested Banyai’s motion to reconsider inclusion of the berms in the order, saying Banyai already sought that and was turned down in an earlier court ruling.
“Contrary to Defendant’s argument, he has had and still has the opportunity to avoid the sanctions imposed by this Court by doing the one thing he has resisted for years, and which he continues to resist in the present motion — complying with this Court’s order, and with the Town’s Zoning Bylaws,” Bent said in the town’s opposition.
Durkin, in his contempt order, set three deadlines for Banyai to remove unpermitted structures from the property: March 25, for a school building, a facade, shipping containers, and all stairs, ladders and platforms; May 9 for berms in, around, near, or on a pair of firing ranges; and June 23 for all other unpermitted structures. Durkin also established windows following those deadlines in which the town would be allowed full access to make sure the work was done.
“If respondent fails to accommodate the Town’s site inspections as specified here, he shall also be subject to imprisonment. The writ of mittimus will call for Daniel Banyai to immediately report to [Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility] in Rutland, or otherwise direct the Rutland County Sheriff’s Office to deliver Danial Banyai to MVRCF,” Durkin ruled on Feb. 9.
Banyai is also being fined $200 per day, but those fines will be dismissed if he meets the conditions of the court order.
If he is jailed, the town will be permitted to enter the property and complete the work itself, and fines will continue at $200 per day until the work is completed, per court order.