Environmental Court OKs Lathrop’s Bristol gravel pit proposal

BRISTOL — After a decade of litigation, an Environment Court judge last Friday gave a green light to the proposed Lathrop gravel pit in Bristol. The proposed pit on a 65-acre tract off Notch Road and Rounds Road in Bristol has been a controversial topic for many years.
Opponents of the pit, who say it would impose undue noise and traffic on Bristol village as well as run counter to town zoning, vow to appeal the approval to the Vermont Supreme Court.
“It’s our hope the Vermont Supreme Court will say ‘wait a minute, let’s do this legally,’” said James Dumont, a Bristol attorney who has been representing the opponents of the gravel pit for 10 years.
Bristol resident Jim Lathrop, who operates Lathrop Forest Products, a logging and land clearing firm, first sought approval for the project in 2003.
In a 78-page opinion issued Oct. 18, Judge Thomas Durkin granted Lathrop an Act 250 permit and zoning permit. He concluded that the project would not create an unreasonable amount of traffic congestion or noise, nor have an adverse effect on surrounding neighborhoods — noting that during its first 15 years of operation, the project would “not be within the view of most surrounding areas.”
Durkin also rejected the claim by residents who opposed the pit on the grounds that Bristol’s Town Plan prohibits sand and gravel extraction within the zoning districts wherein the 65-acre lot lies.
“Bristol has survived and even prospered in spite of, or perhaps because of, the already-existing sand and gravel extraction projects in the area,” Durkin wrote.
Some town residents have opposed the pit because of its close proximity to the heart of town. Others support the project because it will create more jobs for the town.
Dumont said he was alarmed by the scope of the ruling. Dumont said he was concerned that Judge Durkin did not explain why the District 9 Environmental Commission did not need to approve the Act 250 permit, and that the court was basing its findings off a computer model prepared by Ken Kaliski for Lathrop that was never proven to be accurate.
 “We find the scientific evidence presented by Mr. Kaliski to be reliable and relevant to the issues on appeal,” Durkin wrote.
Dumont said the next step is to file a Notice of Appeal with the Vermont Supreme Court, which he will do in a matter of days.
In an email to the Independent, John Moyers, a Bristol resident who opposes the pit and has been involved in the litigation, criticized Judge Durkin’s opinion. (Read Durkin’s opinion in full at addisonindependent.com.)
“Judge Durkin’s contortions and omissions give us great handles for our appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court,” Moyers said. “For this reason we remain confident in our ultimate victory.”
Moyers said he was concerned this case would set a dangerous precedent, whereby developers and contractors could circumvent local zoning and environmental boards by appealing directly to the courts.
“It would allow developers to write their own conditions for their project, hand them into the judge and let the judge decide on which conditions to place, ignoring any conditions placed by a local zoning board,” Moyers said.
According the court documents, Jim Lathrop first sought a municipal land use permit for the pit in 2003. The Bristol Zoning Board approved this permit, subject to two dozen conditions. Many residents opposed the project, citing noise and traffic concerns. In response, instead of going forward with the initial awarded permit, Lathrop submitted a new municipal permit application in 2007.
The Bristol Zoning Board in 2008 denied Lathrop’s second conditional use application — because the company was not proposing to fill in the pit after it was done, the town determined the application would violate its bylaws.
Aside from town zoning approval, Lathrop’s proposal was subject to state Act 250 approval. Lathrop filed its first Act 250 permit in 2006. The District 9 Environmental Commission determined Lathrop’s proposal did not conform to the Bristol Town Plan, which prohibits quarrying in the zoning districts where the lot is located.
In 2010, the District 9 Environmental Commission denied the updated proposal an Act 250 permit saying it did not comply with five criteria. In that decision, the commission said the pit “would cause and result in a detriment to public health, safety and general welfare.”
Quarrying operations have existed in the town of Bristol for many years. According to court documents, there are 10 current or former gravel extraction sites close to downtown Bristol. Because of the geographical makeup of the bedrock, the gravel in Addison County is considered high quality. From around 1970 to 1990, the Lathrop family operated a gravel pit near the area where Lathrop now proposes to build an access road to the new site.
Bristol Town Administrator Bill Bryant said on Tuesday that he and other town officials were still reviewing the opinion.
“I’m trying to see if I want to convene the selectboard to see if there’s anything they’d like to take up with the judge,” Bryant said.
Eric Forand, the town zoning administrator, said he had read the opinion but did not want to comment because of ongoing appeals.
Jim Lathrop did not return a request for comment by press time.
Editor’s note: Read Judge Durkin’s opinion by clicking here.

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