Bristol residents appeal Lathrop pit decision to Supreme Court
BRISTOL — A 10-year battle to open a gravel pit in Bristol will likely come to end in front of the state’s highest court. A group of Bristol residents are appealing an Oct. 18 Environmental Court decision authorizing the construction of the pit to the Supreme Court.
Bristol attorney James Dumont, in a 63-page brief filed with the state’s highest court last week, argued that construction of the gravel pit would not be in the best interests of the town. At issue is whether the Environmental Court circumvented the authority of the town officials, specifically the zoning board, by granting a zoning permit and Act 250 permit to the project.
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 of the Washington County Superior County, Environmental Division, granted Lathrop an Act 250 permit and zoning permit. He concluded that the Lathrop 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 that Bristol’s Town Plan prohibits sand and gravel extractions within the zoning districts wherein the 65-acre lot lies.
Dumont’s appeal is a class action on behalf of several Bristol families whose properties are near the proposed gravel pit site. In the appeal, Dumont wrote that these families would suffer “immediate and irreparable harm” because of noise generated by gravel pit operations.
He argued the “noise, dust and visual impacts of construction” would decrease the quality of life for several families who live across the New Haven River from the proposed pit site off Rounds Road.
“During an earlier period of unpermitted gravel extraction at the same site, the Reugers experienced unbearable noise and dust,” Dumont wrote. “The noise was so loud that conversation outside the house was impossible and inside the house was difficult … No money damages can repair the months or year of high noise at these residences.”
Dumont said that the estimated traffic increase by these residences from 5-10 trucks per day to 100 trucks per day is unacceptable. The Bristol attorney also questioned why Judge Durkin vacated 23 conditions the Bristol Zoning Board in 2004 imposed on the project, should it ever go forward.
“The ruling does not explain how raising daily trucking limits to 100, vacating the 55 (decibel) property line noise limit, enlarging the two-acre limit on unreclaimed land to five acres, allowing berms to be built within 200 feet of property lines … relaxing the limitations on hours of operation and vacating the requirement of review by the board every five years addressed any of the board’s concerns,” Dumont wrote.
While the construction and operation of the pit would cause irreparable harm to several families, Dumont argued the “major cause of harmful impacts” on the community would be the removal of the pit wall, estimated at a half-million to a million cubic yards, which would leave no barrier between the pit and the town.
Dumont argued that the plan to remove this wall was never presented in any of Lathrop’s applications for a zoning or Act 250 permit, and by granting Lathrop permission to remove the pit wall, the court was violating Vermonters’ right to due process, because residents had no opportunity to review this plan.
“Having spent countless hours and tens of thousands of dollars over the past ten years to reach this point in the proceedings, these Vermonters are now on the cusp of losing all their fundamental due process under the 14th Amendment and Article 1, chapter 10 of the Vermont Constitution,” Dumont wrote.
While the case is on appeal Dumont asked the Supreme Court to issue a stay of Judge Durkin’s ruling.
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.
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