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Ferrisburgh board backs fine for cutting tree

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh selectboard on Tuesday voted unanimously to support town tree warden Clifton Mix’s recommendation to fine farmer Bernie Dam $500 for cutting down a tree in the town’s Button Bay Road right of way. The board will send notice of the fine in a certified letter.
The board also agreed to include information along with the next round of property tax bills explaining the road right-of-way laws, specifically that tree-cutting within the town’s right of way requires a permit, as does utility work. 
Board members also said they would look into adding an assistant tree warden to make it easier for residents who wanted to do simple projects to get verbal green lights.
The decision to fine Dam was taken as the larger Vorsteveld Farm LLC tree-cutting case, now in a pre-trial phase in Environmental Court, loomed large. 
“I don’t think we’re in a position where we can pick and choose who we can fine,” said Selectman Jim Benoit.
During the meeting Selectboard Chairwoman Jessica James reported that the town’s three-year-old tree-cutting case against the Vorsteveld Farm LLC would be further delayed by another motion filed by its owners. The town has spent around $30,000 on the case, according to the board on Tuesday.
The brothers who own the farm in 2017 hired a contractor to clear-cut 0.75 miles of trees and shrubs along the east side of Arnold Bay Road. Mix alleged that cutting included more than 2,000 trees and that the farm could be fined as much as about $1 million. 
James said the Vorstevelds’ attorney filed an April 24 Motion of Summary Judgment seeking a “description of every tree” and a declaration of whether the town’s right of way was three or six rod wide.
James said sometimes such motions are filed as a tactic to “waste time and money,” and that the pre-trial evidence-sharing phase of the proceedings known as discovery would be further delayed. Court cases are already moving slowly due to reduced operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
The Dam case cropped up after a complaint from neighbor Walter Reed on March 3. Mix inspected the site and alleged that Dam had cut down a cedar tree with a 10-inch trunk along Button Bay Road, and recommended the fine in a March 4 email. 
The board discussed Dam’s case in late April and concluded he was well aware of the right-of-way laws, noting he has attended at least one meeting to support the Vorstevelds. Reed, a town planning commission member, told the board in April Dam had been before that commission to discuss road right-of-way issues. 
The board invited Dam to both its earlier May meeting and to Tuesday’s, both held via Zoom, but he did not attend either.
Board members on Tuesday said they wanted to establish a clear precedent that before residents worked along roads they should consult with town officials.
“If there is a violation, there are consequences for actions,” said Selectman Chris Campbell. 

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