By Tom Gresham
Chittenden Solid Waste District General Manager Tom Moreau declined to celebrate after a judge cut a major chunk out of the potential purchase price for Williston property that CSWD hopes to transform into a landfill.
“It was a favorable ruling, but who knows what the next one will be?” Moreau said Monday. “It’s just part of a long, complicated process. It’s like one of those back-and-forth basketball games. We’re up two, which is better than being down two, but it’s not over.”
Chittenden County Superior Court Judge Matthew Katz ruled last week CSWD would not have to pay the $4.8 million in business losses that a jury found Hinesburg Sand and Gravel would suffer if CSWD seized its Redmond Road property. The jury had last year awarded the business a total of $8.8 million, including $4 million for the cost of the land itself.
Robert O’Neill, an attorney for Hinesburg Sand and Gravel, said the business plans to appeal Katz’s decision to the Vermont Supreme Court. O’Neill noted Katz’s ruling was a matter of the interpretation of a statute and did not indicate the jury’s verdict had been unsubstantiated by the facts.
O’Neill said Hinesburg Sand and Gravel represents an unusual situation because its business is so closely associated with its property. O’Neill compared it to a situation with a warehouse filled with raw materials. By seizing the land, O’Neill argued, CSWD was not just taking Hinesburg Sand and Gravel’s warehouse, but its raw materials, too. O’Neill said Hinesburg Sand and Gravel has one of the most sophisticated aggregating operations in all of North America.
Moreau said the Supreme Court appeal, which could take as much as two years, would not affect the timeline of the proposed development of the landfill. CSWD disclosed plans this winter to open the regional landfill by July 2008. CSWD hopes to start the design process in April.
CSWD plans to develop most of the landfill on the 76-acre Hinesburg Sand and Gravel property. Hinesburg Sand and Gravel declined to sell the property, prompting the plan to condemn the land for the landfill. However, the seizure cannot take place until compensation for Hinesburg Sand and Gravel has been settled.
One potential scenario could cause major delays in the project, Moreau said. Katz did not rule on the $4 million land price, instead leaving it up to CSWD to decide whether it wanted him to consider the motion. If Katz did reduce the land price, it would likely lead to a new jury trial. Moreau said if the court proceedings returned to a jury trial, the development of the landfill could be postponed another two years.
Moreau said the CSWD Board of Commissioners will hold a special meeting on April 13 to consider whether it should ask Katz to rule on the motion. Moreau expects the board to reach a decision before the end of April.