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Mediation set to resolve Ferrisburgh dispute over clear-cut trees

FERRISBURGH — Ferrisburgh town officials, the owners of the Vorsteveld Farm LLP, and representatives of both parties will sit down on April 27 with Middlebury mediator Michael Marks and try to resolve the dispute that arose when the farm a year ago hired a contractor to clear-cut trees and brush from a three-quarter stretch of Arnold Bay Road.
Ferrisburgh selectboard Chairman Rick Ebel earlier this week confirmed the meeting had been scheduled and said he hoped the process could produce a resolution with which both sides could be happy.
“The Ferrisburgh selectboard going into this is very hopeful,” Ebel said.
Neighbors complained to the board after the cutting, which was done along the east side of the road, heading north from the Panton town line, and removed a canopy from much of that stretch.
At issue is the fact the land in question is within the town road’s right of way, and according to Ferrisburgh officials the Vorstevelds had “public shade trees” removed.  
A letter written to the farm owners by town attorney John Carroll cited law that he said meant the farm owners “as individuals and partners of Vorsteveld Farm, LLP, are subject to a fine of not more than $500 for each tree so injured or removed, as well as an award of damages … for the trespass and removal of the shade trees, as well as other injunctive relief to assure that the damage caused is mitigated through a replanting plan.”
Per the letter, the contractor removed 306 shade trees with trunks at least 6-inch diameters and another 1,870 trees and shrubs along Arnold Bay Road.
The Vorstevelds maintain they were within their rights to remove what Hans Vorsteveld described as an “overgrown hedgerow,” something they had done to expand cropland and improve drainage. Vorsteveld also said the work improved views from the road.
And another state statute, 19 V.S.A. § 901, on “Removal of roadside growth,” seems to suggest a landowner along a road has rights. It reads: “A person, other than the abutting landowner, shall not cut, trim, remove, or otherwise damage any grasses, shrubs, vines, or trees growing within the limits of a State or town highway, without first having obtained the consent of the Agency for State highways or the selectmen for town highways.”
Ebel said neighbors also should be considered when right-of-way ownership is not unique to one party.
“We share the right-of-way. That’s the whole idea of it,” he said.
Ebel believes the April 27 gathering will move things forward.
“We’re hoping through mediation we can come up with some understanding, at least,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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