Fenn gravel plan draws more fire

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Development Review Board (DRB) on Monday continued its evaluation of the hotly contested Fenn gravel pit off Route 116, with testimony focusing on truck traffic and dust the project could generate.
Neighbors of the proposed pit again packed the Ilsley Library conference room to dispute the development team’s contentions that trucks could safely merge and coexist with current traffic on Route 116, and that the project site — if properly maintained — would not generate enough dust and environmental impurities to pose a hardship to surrounding residents.
“The Champlain Valley Agency on Aging tells me my chances of going outside without (an) oxygen (tank) are very remiss if this gravel pit is allowed,” Alan Ewald, a 94-year-old World War II veteran who lives in the Butternut Ridge neighborhood, told the DRB.
The DRB is reviewing Ronald and Susan Fenn’s amended application for a gravel pit on a portion of a 70-acre parcel they own off Route 116 (also known as Case Street), around 180 feet north of its intersection with Quarry Road. Plans call for the 16-acre pit to be excavated in four, four-acre phases over 20-30 years, during which an estimated 660,000 cubic yards of material would be excavated. Such a plan would result in an average of 40 loaded truck trips per day, via a new access road off Route 116, which would be located approximately 120 feet north of the intersection with Quarry Road.
Neighbors — including residents of the Lindale Trailer Park — have argued that the pit would bring more noise, dust and traffic to an already busy stretch of Route 116 that currently sees truck traffic from other nearby gravel and sand operations.
The development team representing the Fenns presented evidence on Monday they said should prove that trucks could safely enter and exit the access road without causing dangerous conditions for other vehicles on Route 116.
Project engineer John Pitrowiski presented some new steps the developers would take to enhance traffic safety, including:
• Widening Route 116 near the access road from the existing one- to two-foot shoulders to four-foot paved shoulders. This would allow more space for pedestrians and bicyclists.
• Replacing missing or damaged signs along the Route 116 corridor that extends from the northern Mead Lane intersection south to the Quarry Road intersection. The applicants are also proposing to post “Trucks Entering Ahead” signs to the north and the south of the project driveway.
• Requiring that the front yard of the Fenn property adjacent to the project access road be kept clear of brush, trees or other potential visual obstructions for motorists.
• Offering the town $2,500 to finance its own, independent study of traffic conditions and verify whether the applicants’ assertions on traffic impacts are accurate.
“We recognize this is a lot of technical information,” Pitrowiski said.
“It is enough information that a peer review is appropriate.”
That review would also help determine the accuracy of some of the applicants’ assertions on “intersection sight distance” — defined as the distance a stopped vehicle can see in either direction when making the decision to pull out into the traffic stream — and “stopping sight distance,” defined as the length of roadway ahead that is visible to drivers needed to safely stop a vehicle.
Pitrowiski said the stopping sight distances and intersection sight distances for the project exceed “all requirements” set forth by the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) and/or by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). He said the stopping sight distance for a southbound tractor trailer traveling toward the project access driveway is 778 feet, which he argued is 113 feet in excess of the distance required for a tractor trailer to safely come to a stop. The stopping sight distance for a southbound passenger vehicle traveling toward the project access driveway is 778 feet, according to Pitrowiski, which is 353 feet in excess of the distance required by VTrans the AASHTO.
Some board members and neighbors disputed the applicants’ claims, however, arguing it is not clear whether their calculations pertained to fully loaded trucks. Opponents also took issue with some of the sources of the applicants’ findings.
“You are being sand-bagged,” area resident Craig Cook said to DRB members.
Residents were also not persuaded by the development team’s contention that the project is not expected to add much new truck traffic to Route 116. Pitrowiski argued that trucks are already traveling the road to draw from other nearby pits now in operation.
“We believe the traffic will be on this road whether it is this pit or another pit,” Pitrowiski said.
Neighborhood resident David Bumbeck argued that any additional trucks put on the road because of the pit would be an issue, particularly given the numbers of children living in the neighborhood. The large, three-axle trucks would operate along a road on which many children drive to school, Bumbeck noted.
“They take up a lot of space and carry little kids,” Bumbeck said of school buses that must compete for space.
Bumbeck also argued the project, its access road, a widened Route 116 and the subtraction of trees to aid sight-lines would have an impact on “the dignity of the ridge and the people who live on this ridge.”
The DRB also took testimony on potential dust and other pollution impacts from the project. The developers’ consultant, Kenneth Kaliski of Resource Systems Group Inc., claimed a series of dust mitigation efforts proposed at the project site would “afford a high degree of protection to those working on-site and the neighbors in the surrounding community.”
Those proposed measures include:
• Paving the first 200 feet of the access road to cut down on dust, while using water to knock down dust from the remaining, gravel portion of the road.
• Using water to wash off dust from the excavation equipment and sand/gravel stockpiles, “as needed.”
• Covering the loaded truck to contain dust.
• Providing a call-in number for the public to report dust emanating from the site.
Kaliski said he believes the proposed emission-control measures would provide “70 percent to 95 percent fugitive dust control.” He added “The prevailing winds are such that gravel pit dust will be blown in the direction of the neighbors to the northwest about a third of the time when the gravel pit is in operation and about 5 percent of the year, considering the operating schedule.”
Again, residents and some board members were not sold on some of the consultant’s claims. For example, Kaliski said he based some of his conclusions on wind speed and direction data from the Rutland Airport. He said such data was not available through the Middlebury State Airport.
Some board members said they want to see more information — including scientific data — about potential air pollution generated by the pit.
“You’re walking into a room, show us three slides, and say, ‘No problem,’” DRB member Adam Portz said. “That’s hard to buy.”
Dr. Lewis Holmes, another board member, agreed.
“What’s being presented is not enough information,” Holmes said.
Resident Curtis Gross said the town should insist on additional information in order to protect itself against potential airborne impurities from the pit. Gross spoke of the legal expression, “Innocent until proven guilty,” adding that when it comes to the gravel pit proposal, “Dangerous until proven safe should be the hard line here.”
Resident Barbara Shapiro said there are “a number of people” in the neighborhood who have cardiac or respiratory ailments who might be affected by operations at the proposed pit.
The DRB continue to hear testimony on the application on Monday, Dec. 14.

Share this story:

No items found
Share this story: