By Kim Howard
The Vermont Supreme Court last week upheld a lower court decision that Hinesburg Sand and Gravel Co. Inc., is not entitled to $4.8 million in business losses due to the seizing of their Williston sand pit by Chittenden Solid Waste District. The court also ruled the company is not entitled to interest beyond the fair market value of the land as of January 2000.
The ruling is just one more step in a legal battle that started 15 years ago to create a new regional landfill. In 1992 Hinesburg Sand and Gravel refused to sell 76 acres on Redmond Road, so the waste district began legal proceedings to seize it. Since that time, the parties have been embroiled in legal battles to determine proper compensation.
Last week’s court opinion, according to Chittenden Solid Waste District Manager Tom Moreau, has the potential to delay the start of the landfill’s construction. If the court found the district responsible for paying interest on the value of the land and on millions in business losses, Moreau said, the waste district could be facing roughly $1 million a year in interest payments, forcing them to rush into construction to avoid incurring additional interest.
“This gives us a little breathing room,” Moreau said.
That breathing room, he said, includes looking at developing some new programs to divert more waste from landfills. The CSWD Board of Commissioners was scheduled to meet Wednesday night, after the Observer went to press, to hear the options in light of the ruling.
Hinesburg Sand and Gravel General Manager Tim Casey said the company is “disappointed in what the Supreme Court did” last week, but has not decided if it will file a motion to reconsider the business losses. The company also has the right to request a new jury trial to assess the updated value of the property as of the date of payment, according to the opinion. The waste district has yet to provide compensation since it has not yet taken the land.
In 2003, a jury determined the waste district should pay Hinesburg Sand and Gravel $8.8 million for the seized land — $4 million for the land and $4.8 million in business losses. Appraisal experts for both parties said during the jury trial that the “highest and best use of the property was as a landfill, and not as a sand pit,” according to the court opinion. The experts agreed the property as a landfill was worth about $1.8 million; Hinesburg Sand and Gravel President Paul Casey testified he thought the property was worth $7.5 million, without considering the value of the sand.
The sand pit, the company argued, provides important raw materials for the company’s operations. The waste district had agreed to excavate and stockpile sand from the pit and make it available for up to 30 years, but the Hinesburg Sand and Gravel said it would incur losses to sort and clean the sand. During the jury trial, the company estimated that processing would cost them $5.7 million.
In March 2005, Chittenden Superior Court Judge Matthew Katz ruled the solid waste district did not need to pay for business losses as determined by the 2003 jury decision. Hinesburg Sand and Gravel appealed to the Supreme Court; that appeal resulted in last week’s decision.
Casey doesn’t expect the land battles to end anytime soon.
“We will continue fighting this as long as it takes; we’re not going to give up,” he said. “We would be very happy for them to just go away and leave us alone and give us the property back and pay us the damages of what they’ve caused us.”
Hinesburg Sand and Gravel has 14 days to file a motion for re-argument, according to the company’s attorney, Robert O’Neill of Gravel and Shea.
An earlier federal lawsuit by Hinesburg Sand and Gravel against the waste district was stayed pending the outcome of state proceedings. The company sued the waste district for violating its constitutional rights in the initial taking of the land.