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Ferrisburgh talks trees with Vorsteveld farmers

FERRISBURGH — A seven-hour mediation session on Friday, April 27, that brought together the town of Ferrisburgh and the owners of the Vorsteveld Farm produced an agreement — to hold another mediation session, this time on Arnold Bay Road, where in the spring of 2017 contractors hired by the farm cut three-quarters of a mile of trees and shrubs along the road’s east side.
Town officials maintain that act constituted illegal cutting of shade trees within the town’s road right of way and said so many trees were cut the farm could technically face a $1 million fine.
The farmers maintain the land is theirs to the middle of the road, they were making improvements to allow better drainage to improve cropland that runs along the road, and the end result improved views along the road that runs north from Panton not far from Lake Champlain.
Neighbors are upset and complained to the selectboard, and laws are apparently murky, even contradictory, according to attorneys and tree wardens.
At the Ferrisburgh selectboard meeting on May 1, Chairman Rick Ebel gave only a brief report about the long mediation session.
“We’ll be continuing that mediation with an onsite visit,” Ebel said, adding that a date had yet to be set.
Ebel said that visit is planned to include a University of Vermont farm extension agent to discuss the tree resources and the Vorstevelds’ plans for their land.
In a May 2 phone interview Ebel said he remains hopeful the mediation process will bring the sides together.
“I continue to be optimistic that we can work with the Vorstevelds to come up with a resolution,” he said.
Meanwhile, minutes from the board’s April 17 meeting indicate Ferrisburgh had spent at that point $8,240 on legal fees to the firm of Carroll, Boe & Pell on the issue, thus going over the town’s annual budget for legal expenses. Minutes also stated, “The board concluded that there needs to be a discussion about where the funds will come from for future legal expenses.”
On May 2 Ebel said the board had yet to have that discussion.
At the May 1 meeting, the Ferrisburgh selectboard also:
•  Voted to make permanent the part-time clerical position in the town office now held by Jean Silveira. Silveira was originally hired on a temporary basis to help handle a variety of tasks around the office, thus allowing the town clerk and assistant town clerk to catch up on a backlog of recording legal documents and also allow the assistant clerk to help out the board of listers.
By a 4-1 vote, with Selectman Jim Benoit voting against, the board decided the workload had increased and that having Silveira on board would save money by not having to pay appraisers and legal professionals to perform work for the town. Ebel, who has spent time in the office recently due to the Vorsteveld and Sand Road dog rescue legal issues, said at the meeting he has seen the need. “The addition of the part-time clerical position has been essential,” Ebel said.
•  Heard a generally positive report from auditor Ron Smith of RHR Smith about the 2017 audit and 2018 pre-audit review. Smith said a few wrinkles remain to be ironed out, including on bank statement reconciliation, before his summary.
“Overall, I think things are better,” Smith said. “You guys have come a long way, and are maintaining your financial standing.”

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