August 21, 2014

Residents sue town, district over landfill

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

A group of Williston residents has filed a lawsuit against the Town of Williston and the Chittenden Solid Waste District regarding a planned landfill.

Thirty-seven plaintiffs living and owning lots on Ledgewood Drive, near the site of the planned landfill on Redmond Road, are seeking to invalidate a 1992 agreement in which town officials promised the town would host a regional landfill. The group represents 20 households, according to Craig Abrahams, one of the plaintiffs and a member of Vermont Organized Communities Against Landfills (VOCAL), a local citizens’ group.

Steve Casale, president of VOCAL, left a voicemail at the Williston Observer offices clarifying the group itself is not party to the lawsuit.

“Whereas we are sympathetic with the cause of this independent group of homeowners and wish them well in their fight to prevent this unnecessary and toxic landfill siting, this is an independent group and VOCAL is not involved with it,” Casale said in his message.

The 11-page complaint, filed in Chittenden Superior Court in Burlington, was served to the defendants on Monday, Abrahams said.

Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire said he expected the lawsuit, which he already has referred to town lawyers.

“We defend any lawsuit that’s filed against the town,” McGuire said. He said he has no sense of how much the suit will cost the town to defend.

Chittenden Solid Waste District General Manager Tom Moreau said the waste district will defend the lawsuit “vigorously.”

“The Chittenden Solid Waste District depended on this Host Town Agreement as we proceeded through spending a fair amount of money” in the planning of a landfill, Moreau said. “We expect the town will live up to its word.”

Some of the suit’s arguments “seem weaker” than others, Moreau said. Overall, however, he said the suit “seems more against what the town did as opposed to what the district has done, if you look at it.”

The lawsuit seeks a judgment that the “Purchase and Sale and Host Town Agreement” and amendments – the legal contracts around the planned landfill – is “illegal, against public policy, contrary to settled Vermont law and void,” the complaint reads.

By signing the Host Town Agreement, the lawsuit says, the Town has delegated municipal authority to the solid waste district, provided the solid waste district with a tax exemption for the landfill site, and failed to include a termination date or period review provision of the agreement – all of which, the suit alleges, are illegal, against public policy or contrary to Vermont law.

The plaintiffs allege their interests will be affected by the proposed landfill due to the proximity of their land, the suit says. It further alleges the following direct effects on plaintiffs: adverse health effects, increased noise, traffic, air pollution and aesthetic impacts.

The plaintiffs also alleged the agreement signed by the town was “not authorized at a duly warned town meeting,” according to the suit. Voters in Williston approved the signing of the Host Town Agreement in 1992.

Abrahams said “this specific lawsuit does not seek financial damages at this time.” What the complainants want, he said, is to void the Host Town Agreement.

“Today’s Selectboard should have every opportunity to argue and fight this landfill if they so choose,” Abrahams said. “The Host Town Agreement prohibits the current Selectboard from protecting its own citizens.”

Abrahams said the plaintiffs plan to see the lawsuit through “to the end.”

“If that means multiple appeals over many years,” he said, “that’s what we intend to do.”

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