Vergennes adopts drug paraphernalia ordinance

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on Feb. 8 unanimously adopted a city ordinance that allows Vergennes police to write civil tickets for the possession of drug paraphernalia.
Unless a petition arises to challenge the law within 44 days from the date of adoption, it will take effect 60 days from this past Tuesday.
Vergennes police will be able to issue a $100 ticket to anyone found in possession of equipment used to inhale, ingest, produce or cultivate illegal drugs.
Assuming the ticket is paid, no official entry will be made on an offender’s criminal record, and police will not have to make costly and time-consuming court appearances.
On this past Wednesday, City Manager Mel Hawley described what alderman and Police Chief George Merkel, who recommended the ordinance, see as an ideal outcome.
“Hopefully the result is we confiscate the pipe, they get a fine, and hopefully the message has been sent … and they make better choices,” Hawley said. “And it’s an easier process for the police.”
Hawley said aldermen had a couple concerns that were answered at their Feb. 8 meeting. They were assured that police would have the training and knowledge, for instance, not to confuse a tobacco pipe with a marijuana pipe, and that tickets would not blot youthful first-time offenders’ records.
“That’s one of the good things about this sort of ordinance,” Hawley said.
Merkel came across a similar law in Fair Haven and told city officials he thought it would be a useful tool in some situations in Vergennes.
In a Wednesday interview, Merkel said police would probably not use the law against sellers of paraphernalia because existing state laws would better serve that purpose.
In other business on Feb. 8, Hawley told aldermen:
•  That it might be at least slightly more expensive to develop the 8.13-acre city-owned parcel off Green Street than he had previously expected. Hawley said wetlands lie between the site and a downslope sewer main, and that an Agency of Natural Resources permit would be needed to run a gravity-feed sewer line from the land to the existing main. The wetlands would also have to be restored afterward, he said. Aldermen will probably make an early-spring site visit.
•  That he had talked on a preliminary basis to officials of the Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services about acquiring up to 80 acres of land near Northlands Job Corps. That land includes 35 acres on which the city has spread septic lagoon sludge, and Hawley hopes ownership could help make that arrangement permanent, subject to ongoing ANR permitting.
The remaining 45 acres, about a third of which he said could also be suitable for sludge spreading, lies between that parcel and Comfort Hill. The main purpose of that land would be access to the sludge site, Hawley said. The state now leases the land to Ferrisburgh farmer Casey Brands, and Hawley said he would hope to continue that arrangement.
•  That the low bidder for a concrete stairway down to Otter Creek from the east of the falls was Waitsfield’s Arrodesign Inc. at $380,600. The project will also include a viewing platform and lighting. Vergennes was several years ago awarded $462,000 for the project, and has spent $60,000 on design. Hawley hopes the remaining $22,000 will be enough for construction management; if not, he said, a provision in the grant awarded through the Agency of Transportation might pay the balance.
The work will be the third and final phase of a larger project begun earlier this decade. The first included improvements to Settlers Park on the other side of North Main Street that featured an upgrade to its boat landing; the second included a sidewalk and railing running from the nearby Benton Appraisers building to the top of the falls where the third phase’s stairway will begin.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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