Bristol Debates Gravel Pit, Act 250

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(Host) The town of Bristol is headed to court over a proposed gravel pit near its downtown. At issue is whether this once-vibrant lumber town should permit a project that supporters say could bring much-needed revenue and industry.

As VPR’s Kirk Carapezza reports, critics argue the gravel pit would only bring noise and decrease land value.

(Carapezza) The town of Bristol is situated between the Green Mountains and the New Haven River. It spreads out like a butterfly. Its main street is flanked by two, large plateaus.

The northern plateau is at the foothills of the mountains. This is where downtown is located, and it’s already developed.

But the southern plateau is not, and the Lathrop family owns about 70 acres of it.

(Lathrop) "The first four acres we bought in the ‘60s."

(Carapezza) Jim Lathrop is the president of Lathrop Forest Products.

(Lathrop) "My father mined it out to make more room for the corporation across the street; started it in the ‘70s, and quit digging in the ‘80s."

(Carapezza) Lathrop laid-off 70 people after a fire destroyed one of his saw mills nine years ago. A year later in 2003, times were so tough that he applied for a permit to build a gravel pit on this site, and the town gave him one.

But in Vermont gravel pits have generally been regulated under Act 250 since the development control law was enacted back in 1970. That means Lathrop needed a permit for his pit. And he’s still fuming because last year the Natural Resources Board sided with a regional commission and refused to issue a permit.

VPR VIDEO: Jim Lathrop makes his case for building a gravel pit in Bristol.

(Lathrop) "The permit process in Vermont is a big business stopper. It is costly. It is unpredictable and it’s detrimental to business in this state."

(Carapezza) It’s a debate that’s playing out in cities and towns across Vermont. In Underhill, for example, the selectboard is setting up a task force to guide where gravel pits are permitted. In Moretown, the Environmental Court decided a proposed pit didn’t comply with Act 250 regulations.

(Harper) "This is the beginning of the Lathrop property."

(Carapezza) Bristol businessman Kevin Harper stands on the banks of the New Haven River, just below the southern plateau. Harper is an outspoken opponent of the plan to build a gravel pit in Bristol.

(Harper) "There’s a natural resource that a family is sitting on, which is a wonderful thing and they have a wonderful opportunity to benefit financially from extracting that resource, but it needs to be done in the scope and scale that, given its location, is suitable for the community."

(Carapezza) One issue is increased truck traffic that already rumbles down main street for most of the day.

Donald Morris and his wife live on the access road that trucks would travel to get to and from the pit. Morris says he and his wife moved to Bristol after he retired as an Episcopal priest 15 years ago because they thought it would be a quiet spot.

(Morris) We saw a picture in the paper of a wonderful log house on the side of a mountain in a wonderful village with nice people.

(Carapezza) Morris says that environment is now threatened by the prospect of a gravel pit. He walks around his backyard and points his cane in the direction of the proposed site.

(Morris) "The entrance would be at the bottom of the hill – the bottom of my property."

But whatever happens, Morris says he’s looking forward to many more years here.

(Morris) "I hope it’s tranquil, and not dusty, noisy and dangerous."

(Carapezza) This is the kind of debate that’s playing out in many Vermont towns just like Bristol. They once relied heavily on gravel, lumber and other natural resources. But they’re changing, and many argue that their economic base should change, too.

For VPR News, I’m Kirk Carapezza.

(Host) This week, the Environmental Court scheduled the Bristol gravel pit case to be heard this fall.

Is there an outstanding Act 250 land-use debate in your town? Is Act 250 doing its job in Vermont? Keep the discussion going in the comments section below.

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