Vorstevelds granted Right Of Way permit
FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh selectboard on Oct. 16 issued the Vorsteveld Farm a permit to work in the town right of way along Arnold Bay Road — where the board maintains the farm owners acted illegally when they hired a contractor to remove 0.75 mile of trees and shrubs on the road’s east side 18 months ago without obtaining permission.
The Vorsteveld brothers who own the farm that spans Ferrisburgh and Panton maintain they acted legally to improve land they own. Mediation earlier this year failed to resolve a dispute that has led both sides to hire attorneys to maneuver through contradictory state statutes. Meanwhile many neighbors have complained to the selectboard about the loss of the road’s former shade canopy and possible pollution of their properties and nearby Lake Champlain.
The permit issued on Tuesday will allow the Vorstevelds to complete a tile drainage project intended to lower the water table on the cropland that runs to the east of Arnold Bay Road, thus making it more suitable for growing corn.
The board did not, as it had discussed earlier, attach conditions to that permit that would require the Vorstevelds to replant at least some trees and shrubs along the road. However, the farmers agreed to comply with a ditching and water management system proposed by Ferrisburgh road foreman John Bull.
Bull told the selectboard that system, including “plunge pools” to prevent major flows during rainstorms and the use of small stones and ditching, was recommended by state officials as a way to remove sediment from flowing water and consolidate it for easier removal.
Selectboard Chairman Rick Ebel said on Wednesday the board was also happy that Gerard Vorsteveld and his contractor sat down with Bull and Ferrisburgh Conservation Commission member John Medenwald during a recess of Tuesday’s selectboard meeting to go over details of Bull’s proposed tile drainage permit plan. The board then attached that document to the permit.
“The board was pleased that it (the permit) included the information that John Bull shared last night,” Ebel said.
Ebel said the board will continue pursue the legal matter of the tree-cutting on a separate track while the Vorstevelds complete their drainage project. Gerard Vorsteveld said at the meeting the tile drainage would reduce water flow and leaching of soil and nutrient fertilizer from the fields along Arnold Bay Road.
Ebel, who also pinned down the town’s legal fees on the issue at $16,642, said the board is not changing its position that the Vorstevelds must now follow a planting program for at last partial restoration of Arnold Bay Road’s east side.
“The tree-cutting is separate (from the permit). The board is not done addressing the issue of the tree-cutting. We’re still going to pursue that. As I said at the last meeting it is still our intention to look at a planting program, and that’s regardless of how they manage their tiles,” he said.
The Ebel said Ferrisburgh officials have in hand a planting plan that was jointly developed by a horticultural firm and town forest warden Clifton Mix. He said it does not duplicate the canopy of trees that previously shaded Arnold Bay Road, but calls for trees “every 50 or 100 feet along that stretch there” as well as plantings between.
“It includes both planting of trees of a certain type that would have minimal impact on the tile drain system, and some vegetation,” Ebel said. “It does represent an adequate buffer and an opportunity for tree growth.”
Ferrisburgh Conservation Commission member John Medenwald also brought to the meeting that board’s report of its site visit to Arnold Bay Road. With neighbors in attendance, the commission evaluated the impact of the tree-cutting and hedgerow removal on wildlife habitat and water quality, both through erosion and sedimentation and through leaching of nutrients into Lake Champlain.
On the importance of the removed hedgerow and trees as habitat, Medenwald said it was not as important as some because it ran parallel to a road and did not link two forested areas, thus was not significant as a “corridor for wildlife.”
The commission was concerned, he said, about the loss of a buffer for erosion and sediment. But he said state regulations for and enforcement of Required Agricultural Practices, or RAPs, including required “site-specific widths for buffer strips,” would help address those concerns.
Gerard Vorsteveld said his farm follows those practices.
“We would do all that,” Vorsteveld said. “We go way above and beyond what we are required to do by law.”
Medenwald said the commission noted the “neighbors were very upset” about the aesthetic loss of the road’s shade canopy as well as about potential erosion of their properties and pollution that might reach Lake Champlain.
Bull said he had not seen any erosion of neighboring properties. In response to a neighbor’s question at the meeting Bull acknowledged he did not monitor nutrient content of water flowing from one property to another, but rather just to monitor erosion.
Another neighbor asked Vorsteveld about nutrients leaching onto his wooded property and possibly encouraging the growth of mold among his trees.
Vorsteveld answered that once tile drainage was installed less water would flow off the land, and that if the system made crops grow more efficiently that his belief would be that more of the nutrients would be absorbed by the crops and fewer nutrients would also flow off the land.
Ebel commented on Tuesday and in a Wednesday interview on the civil tone of the meeting, which contrasted with more combative exchanges between the board and the Vorstevelds two weeks before, when the farmers said they would not consider a planting program and asserted they had a right to cut the trees. Ebel said he hoped that tone would continue in discussions among the farmers, their neighbors and town officials.
“I understand that perhaps the Vorstevelds’ position hasn’t changed, but I felt that there was communication that had not occurred before that happened last night, particularly as I mentioned, and I said it a couple times, that I was really pleased to see that neighbors were talking to neighbors,” Ebel said on Wednesday.
“That’s a good first step. It’s not solving the problem, but we’re better off solving the problem when we’re talking to each other. And I’m hopeful in that regard. The ability to talk civilly was definitely there, and we’ll keep at that.”
In its concluding recommendations the conservation commission report backed the selectboard. Its recommendations included: “The Town needs to move forward with legal proceedings to resolve the issue of ‘ownership’ of the trees within the road ROW,” and “We recommend requiring revegetation with a shrub and tree mix after coordination with the Tree Warden and Town Attorney.”