Town seeks to amend salt shed permit
BENNINGTON — The town of Bennington has filed to amend its application for a wetlands permit for a controversial salt shed construction project over which a state fine is expected.
The application to amend the town's original wetlands work permit, which was granted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation in January 2018, was filed in mid-May with the Watershed Management Division's wetlands program.
It seeks to amend the permit to cover additional impacts to wetlands areas and to wetlands buffer zones that occurred during construction at the site — near the town highway facility at 78 Bowen Road.
Reached by phone this week, Laura Lapierre, manager of the wetlands program, said town officials notified the state that the construction project had impacted more of the wetlands area and buffer zone than anticipated in the original application.
According to the town's amendment application, both a section of a nearby wetlands area and a wetlands buffer zone were impacted beyond the scope of the original permit by the construction project, almost all of those impacts being temporary in nature.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd, who filed the application, was out of the office Friday and could not be reached for comment. Assistant Town Manager and Planning Director Daniel Monks said the additional construction-related impacts have all been addressed with restoration work.
One example given involves a temporary ground disturbance within wetlands for work associated with construction of the shed foundation footings. Restoration work in the impacted areas has been completed, according to the town's application.
Other impacts included vegetation trimming in a wetland area — also with restoration work completed, according to the application; vegetation trimming in a wetland buffer zone, with restoration work now completed; and fill along a roadway embankment extending an additional three feet into the buffer zone.
The application also states in part: "The amended project changes were related to impact associated with construction of the salt shed, and included cutting vegetation for construction associated activities, an area of soil and vegetation removal, a new gas line, paving done at the northwest side of the [town highway] building adjacent to the building in an area of managed lawn and area that was already paved in the wetland buffer."
The restoration work in the affected areas includes allowing them to naturally revegetate, the application states.
Monks said the salt shed foundation and building were built according to design and in the right location, but the foundation hole, for instance, was wider than anticipated.
"These were all minor impacts and have been addressed," he said.
An application review fee was required by the state wetlands program, and Lapierre said the fee in this case is $8,147.
Consultant Patricia Greene-Swift, of Barre, is listed as the application preparer.
Bennington officials have said that the town acted as general contractor in construction of the 6,400-square-foot salt and sand shed, which is 80 by 80 feet in size.
Tatro's Concrete Impressions was the successful concrete bidder at $242,500, officials said. Northtimber Associates was the successful carpentry bidder at $171,500.
The project, which was completed during 2017, also is expected to separately result in a fine from the state over Hurd's decision to proceed with construction before a wetlands permit was in hand — following what town officials said were delays in issuing the final permit.
The wetlands work permit eventually was received, on Jan. 3, 2018, but the facility was by then essentially completed.
Both Hurd and state officials have said negotiations over details of an expected order from the state on the wetlands violation, likely including an administrative fine, have been ongoing. Neither side has released information about the talks.
Attorney Randy Miller, of the DEC's Environmental Compliance Division, said this week he has been involved in negotiations over the permit violation. He declined to discuss whether a decision was imminent but did say some similar negotiations with other entities determined to be in violation of wetlands regulation have lasted longer.
Miller said the maximum fine for such a violation is $42,500, but he declined to comment on what range of fine might be possible in this case.
Once a decision has been posted online by the state, there will be a public comment period, he said. Afterward, the DEC will issue an order specifying the fine or other result.
The matter also could be appealed to the Vermont Environmental Court, if there is no settlement agreement.
New highway facility
Bennington voters in March 2017 approved a $3.2 million bond to purchase the former Plasan North America site at 78 Bowen Road under a plan to redevelop the building as a new public works facility. Part of that plan was to build a new shed to store sand and salt, road materials that were kept at an aging facility on Orchard Road.
In a public statement during a Select Board meeting in January 2018, Hurd said he took a gamble by authorizing construction of the salt shed to begin, believing the necessary permit would be received in time. He said the construction followed conditions set down in the permit, which was in the final review stages when work began.
Hurd also said the shed project had received "very competitive bids," with savings between $60,000 and $70,000 and "a tight timeline" for construction.
"Had we not moved forward, we would have lost contractors, the competitive pricing, and set the entire project back several months, most likely resulting in higher costs," Hurd said.
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien
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