SHOREHAM — The District 9 Environmental Commission on Monday issued an Act 250 permit to WhistlePig LLC to build a rye whiskey distillery and related infrastructure off Quiet Valley Road in Shoreham, a decision that comes after a lengthy and at-times bruising battle between the applicants and neighbors of the budding new enterprise.
The permit specifically allows WhistlePig to make the following additions to the 467-acre farm, owned by company founder Raj Peter Bhakta:
• Operate a distillery using rye grown on-site or imported from other sources.
• Install a bottling room and an office suite to operate a facility to import, age, bottle and ship whiskey for resale.
• Erect a new whiskey storage building to accommodate no more than 5,900 barrels of whiskey.
• Introduce a new access drive onto Quiet Valley Road, as well as several concrete pads for parking and unloading, and allow for internal access and circulation improvements.
• Install two concrete pads to store grain and to operate a grain mill.
• Erect a new chiller, a cooling tower, and an above ground 2,000-gallon propane tank.
• Install a state-approved wastewater and water supply system.
• Make any necessary electrical upgrades to service the facility.
The permit retroactively approves some of the above-mentioned work that WhistlePig initiated prior to completing the Act 250 permitting process. That work related to current bottling, whiskey aging and parking/office functions at the business, which has been importing and bottling product from Canada.
WhistlePig officials maintained — and still do — that their project should have been exempt from Act 250 review.
“We believe that our plans to distill grain grown entirely on our farm as part of a ‘farm-to-bottle’ operation constitutes an agricultural endeavor that should not be subject to Act 250,” Bhakta said.
That said, Bhakta was generally pleased with the commission’s decision.
“After having gone through a very expensive and time-consuming Act 250 application process, we are delighted that the commission has recognized that WhistlePig is, and will continue to be, a valued part of Shoreham’s landscape,” he said. “We will be moving full steam ahead to create the world’s first farm-to-bottle distillery, to build America’s first great luxury beverage brand, and to bring high-quality jobs and opportunity home to Addison County. We appreciate the hard work and dedication that the members of the commission clearly gave to our application.”
It was in January of last year that the commission conducted its Shoreham site visit and public hearing regarding the WhistlePig application. Flanked by their respective lawyers, WhistlePig officials and neighbors of the proposed project argued their respective cases before the commission.
Some neighbors voiced concerns about potential new traffic that the distillery operation would bring. Others were wary of a potential uptick in noise. But the most prominent and intriguing issue was raised by the owners of the nearby Solar Haven Farm, who expressed fears that the whiskey aging process at WhistlePig could produce ethanol emissions in sufficient volume to spawn the growth and spread of Baudoinia Compniacensis, sometimes referred to as “black mold.” Solar Haven Farm owners George Gross and Barbara Wilson said they wanted to guard against chances of such a mold affixing itself to their crops of organic berries and fruit trees. Solar Haven Farm is located roughly 3,000 feet from the proposed whiskey storage sheds.
Maizie Hescock and Rustan Swenson, who operate a nearby sugarbush, also voiced concerns about the potential impacts of black mold.
WhistlePig’s Act 250 permit allows for storage of up to 5,900 barrels, as stipulated in the company’s air pollution control permit. Ethanol emitted from that number of barrels, the commission determined, “will not create undue air pollution. The commission finds, at this level, black mold is very, very unlikely to colonize as far away as the Solar Haven Farm.”
WhistlePig will need to apply for an amendment to its Act 250 permit if it is to ever store more than the allowable 5,900 barrels.
“For now, we can operate within confines of the 5,900-barrel limit, however, as the business grows we may seek to add more capacity,” Bhakta said.
Gross said he was satisfied with the barrel limit outlined in the permit.
“The WhistlePig Act 250 permit and the two associated Vermont Agency of Natural Resources permits set terms and conditions that protect not only our interests but also those of our neighbors,” Gross said. “By setting reasonable limits on the scale of the WhistlePig distillery and its warehouses, the threat of property damage from Baudoinia Fungi has been mitigated.”
Gross added he is also pleased that if WhistlePig ultimately receives a permit to expand the number of whiskey barrels it has in storage on the property, it will have to create and operate a “Baudoina Fungi monitoring program. The intent of this monitoring program would be to quantify the timescale and area impacted by the Baudoinia Fungi. This information will guide future permitting by any distillery that ages spirits in oak barrels in Vermont.”
The commission also concluded that traffic generated by the project would not cause unreasonable congestion or unsafe conditions on local roads. In addition to employee vehicles, the project is expected to generate 20 one-way truck trips per week. The applicant will be responsible for on-site water and wastewater disposal systems. The commission also determined the project complies with the Shoreham Town Plan and Addison County Regional Plan.
Bhakta said he hopes to soon begin work on the WhistlePig project.
“I look forward to establishing a relationship based on trust and mutual respect with the commission and with our neighbors as WhistlePig continues the rapid growth of what I hope will be seen, in the fullness of time, as a model Vermont business,” he said.
Gross said he and his wife have no regrets about having intervened in the Act 250 review of the WhistlePig application, and feel satisfied their efforts were worthwhile.
“Personally, for Barbara and I, this endeavor has been a financial hardship and it has taken a toll on our time that otherwise would have been directed at expanding our farm’s business,” he said. “Nonetheless, we feel this outcome is just and it brings some closure. Had we not intervened, we would have regretted it immeasurably. Finally, Solar Haven Farm would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the hard work and thoroughness of the employees at the Agency of Natural Resources and the members of the District 9 Environmental Commission. Thank you, your efforts are exemplary and they demonstrate what public service is all about.”
The commission’s decision is appealable to Vermont Superior Court, Environmental Division, within 30 days.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]