Town: Dog rescuer violates health order

FERRISBURGH — Ferrisburgh dog rescuer Sheila McGregor is out of compliance with a town board of health order related to a rat infestation on the Sand Road property she rents, according to the Ferrisburgh selectboard.
But, said selectboard Chairman Rick Ebel, is it not clear what the next steps are for the town because McGregor has appealed the town Board of Health’s order to the Vermont Department of Health.
Ebel said on this past Thursday that the board believes McGregor, who operates Heidi’s Haven dog rescue from her home,  violated the order twice. Once is by failing to provide the town adequate notice to attend along with Ehrlich Pest Control a July 13 inspection of her ranch home, garage and sheds.
“It was less than 24 hours notice,” Ebel said, therefore neither the town’s health officer nor deputy health officer could make arrangements to attend.
The second violation, he said, is ongoing: McGregor is piling feces from the 20 or more dogs she owns or is fostering on her property in woods to the rear of her lot. McGregor maintains she is composting the feces and has sent links to websites supporting the practice to Ebel and the Independent.
But Ebel notes the order maintains she must remove all dog feces, a potential lure for rats (something McGregor also disputes in a series of links sent to the town and Independent) from her 1-acre property.
Ebel said it does not appear McGregor is following guidelines for proper composting of dog feces as outlined in the most recent link he received, adding that “it doesn’t matter” in the selectboard’s view because of the removal requirement.
“If you read through the document it’s very specific how you go about it, and the materials and the equipment you need. I’m highly suspect that Sheila would have gotten herself organized to do it that way,” he said.
Now McGregor and the town appear to be at a standoff, with the town waiting until the Vermont Board of Health acts on her appeal. McGregor, who declined the board’s invitation to attend last week’s meeting to discuss the issues, said there is “ignorance and evil” in the town in an email, and in that email also said Ebel trespassed on her property when he knocked on her door to ask her to attend, adding she would call police.
Ebel said the town will have to be patient on the board of health front, adding he had not heard from law enforcement about the alleged trespassing.
“This is Sheila grabbing the wheel of the bus and saying, ‘I’m doing it this way,’” he said. “We’re looking at that and have been in touch with counsel about it. Counsel has indicated now, because they’re appealing it, is up to the state Board of Health. We’ll keep a record of these things and as far as enforcement goes that will be something we’ll still have to sort out.”
The purpose of the July 13 inspection by Ehrlich was to confirm the end of the rat infestation. Ehrlich had found no evidence of rats in a June 22 visit and recommended using food attractive to rats in bait boxes as a test to make sure there were still none on the property. McGregor maintains she has had no rats for months.
McGregor did not respond before deadline to an email asking about the results of the July 13 follow-up, whether she believed she had given adequate notice to the town before than inspection, and how she was composting the dog feces.
After years of complaints about noise, odors and at times loose dogs from Heidi’s Haven, town officials earlier this year acted on several fronts to curb McGregor’s operation, which at times has included more than 30 dogs in a home the town measures at 912 square feet, plus a one-car attached garage.
The town also contends Heidi’s Haven is a non-conforming use in a residential zoning district and that she must apply for a permit to operate. If she applied for a permit the town could attach conditions that would almost certainly limit the number of dogs she could have on the property.
The board of health order also requires that McGregor have no more than five dogs on her property by Sept. 31.
Although McGregor has said publicly she will wind down her rescue operation she has appealed to Environmental Court the notice of zoning violation that she received when she declined to apply for a permit.
McGregor also twice recently declined to answer questions from the Independent about her intentions to scale back Heidi’s Haven and reduce the number of dogs at her home.
At the meeting last week the selectboard also addressed the now 15-month-old controversy caused when the owners of the Vorsteveld Farm hired a company in April 2017 to clear-cut trees and shrubs along 0.75 mile of Arnold Bay Road. Work was done within the town’s right-of-way without permission, and it upset neighbors because it removed half of a complete canopy over the road in much of that stretch. The Vorstevelds said they were improving cropland drainage on land they own.
Town officials and the farmers have met, including in mediation, to discuss a resolution for an act that technically could put the Vorstevelds at risk of a fine of up to $1 million. However, state statutes are contradictory.
On July 10 neighbor Julie Adams said as well as the loss of the trees she was concerned the impact of runoff that could be worsened without the trees and hedgerow.
“There were some concerns Julie brought up about the runoff from the field and the effect it would have on the road as well as across the property and into the lake,” Ebel said last week.
Ebel said he contacted Conservation Commission Chairman Craig Heindel, a hydrogeologist, about Adams’ concerns. Ebel said Heindel responded in an email and said he would work to organize a site visit with the commission and Ferrisburgh road foreman John Bull to evaluate whether runoff from the fields could cause more damage to the road, lake or neighborhood after the extensive tree-cutting authorized by the farmers.

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