By Ben Moger-Williams
About 200 people filled the auditorium at Williston Central School for Monday night’s Selectboard meeting to listen to a presentation from a neighborhood group opposed to the anticipated proposal for a regional landfill in Williston.
A line, dozens of people long, formed outside the doors, an impressive sight at a town government meeting that rarely attracts more than one or two people. It was no surprise to the board, however. The meeting, usually held at Town Hall, was moved to the school auditorium in anticipation of the large crowd.
The Chittenden Solid Waste District is still making plans for a proposed regional landfill on Redmond Road. But even though the proposal has not been submitted to the town, residents in several Williston neighborhoods have formed a group, the Williston Neighborhood Coalition, to stop the landfill, which they fear would reduce property values, increase truck traffic and harm the environment.
The proposed landfill would be located on 66 acres of land, currently the location of the Hinesburg Sand and Gravel facility, which does not want to give up the land. In 1992, CSWD initiated eminent domain proceedings for the land, and won the right in court to purchase the property, but the price is still in dispute and the case is currently before the Vermont Supreme Court.
After a couple of housekeeping measures, including a public hearing regarding the town’s proposed ethics ordinance (which drew no comments and passed later in the meeting), the board heard from Coalition President Steve Casale.
Casale’s presentation focused on how the proposed landfill was not needed and would present a host of environmental and economic problems to Williston taxpayers. Casale also asked why the Selectboard did not disclose information about the proposed landfill to potential homeowners after letters from CSWD describing possible impact on those areas were sent to the town. (Casale later corrected himself, saying that a CSWD letter regarding the potential impact on the Ledgewood development was sent to the Selectboard, but the second letter regarding Brennan Woods was sent to the state Act 250 Group, and never received by the Selectboard.)
At the end of the talk, Casale presented the board with a petition signed by more than 600 Williston residents asking the Selectboard to terminate the host town agreement (signed by Williston in 1992) and to oppose the landfill by any legal means necessary.
“This was done in 10 days,” Casale said, referring to the petition. “There’s obviously a lot of concern in the surrounding community from this.”
Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig emphasized that the board had not received a proposal from the CSWD regarding the landfill. However, he said he anticipated a proposal around the end of the year.
Several audience members spoke out at the meeting, and tensions ran high at some points.
“I’m telling you, if this gets approved, I’m taking my wife and my four-year-old and my one-year-old and I’m moving out of this town,” one resident said.
Many people wanted to know if the Selectboard would support the landfill or if they would help residents fight it. The board repeatedly said it would need to seek legal counsel, and could not respond to most of the questions posed by the irate residents.
“I hope you don’t think that we’re trying to evade questions,” Macaig said. “We don’t know the answer to your questions.”
Before concluding, Casale posed one final question to the board.
“Is it clear that this particular group is very, very incensed by this and we really are going to demand action?” Casale asked.
“The answer is yes,” Macaig responded.
Vaughn Altemus, a resident of Stirrup Circle, said he agreed with the sentiments of the crowd, but was wary of asking the board to make comments prematurely.
“I agree with the position of the people in the room, but we should not be pressing the board to do something it would be irresponsible for them to do,” Altemus said after the meeting. “This is part of the process; let’s let the process work.”
The board said it would seek legal counsel and respond to residents’ concerns in the near future.
Hinesburg Sand and Gravel General Manager Tim Casey and his father, Paul, the owner, were at the meeting Monday.
Paul Casey said the company has spent more than $3 million fighting the CSWD over the land dispute. The Caseys were clear on their position in regard to the landfill.
“Go away. Pay us all the damage you’ve done to us, and go,” Tim Casey said of the CSWD.
Before leaving, Casale spoke to a reporter about his reactions to the meeting. He said he felt the board was receptive to the community’s concerns and responded appropriately in the face of some “rather hostile questions.” Casale was asked if he was happy with his Selectboard.
“Unquestionably,” he said. “And that happiness will either continue to grow, or start to recede, depending upon progress from tonight forward.”
In an interview Wednesday, CSWD General Manager Tom Moreau said the District would discuss the group’s presentation at the CSWD board meeting Wednesday night. He said he and other staff members were reviewing Channel 17’s video recording of the meeting and would take any legitimate concerns to the board.
“We think there were some exaggerations, and some things taken out of context,” Moreau said. “We’ve got to go through it, rather than be kind of reactionary.”
He said some residents’ concerns that had been brought to his attention before Monday’s meeting – such as the effects on home values and water usage – were being integrated into the District’s studies for the landfill proposal.
Moreau said he approached Town Manager Rick McGuire about presenting a response to the Williston Neighborhood Coalition, but said McGuire preferred CSWD make their presentation when they actually have a final proposal for the Selectboard. Moreau said CSWD plans to have a completed proposal in November.
“We’ve got some research to do,” he said.