By Lani Duke
Poultney quarry, Part One
POULTNEY— Blasting at a slate quarry across the road from their property has damaged their home to the point that it has no resale value, Jeffrey and Kristin Silverman claimed in a lawsuit they filed against Hilltop Slate Inc., K-D-Stone Inc., and Jeffrey Dunster, in U.S. District Court in Burlington. They have also requested a permanent injunction against blasting inside a 200-foot radius of their 1276 York St. Extension home, according to the Rutland Herald.
The couple’s complaint should be against their real estate agent who sold them the property in 2009, promising the property would not be mined, said Nelson Dunster, president of K-D Stone and Jeffrey Dunster’s father, and Daniel Boone, Hilltop’s CEO. Dunster and/or K-D Stone received rights from Hilltop, the company holding the quarry’s mineral rights and operating the quarry from June 2017 to January 2018. Dunster and Boone said they were both unaware of the lawsuit until asked about it by the Rutland Herald. They said they dispute the claims and that the suit is frivolous.
The Silvermans’ suit, filed by A. J. LaRoss of Burlington, asks $150,000 each for damages on grounds of negligence and nuisance. A third claim for gross negligence asks for three times the value of the house. A home inspection of the Poultney house during its 2009 purchase showed no structural problems with the basement walls or foundation, and that any cracks were due to age.
The suit claims there had been no blasting at the quarry since the 1950s until Hilltop began setting off charges in August 2017. The blasting allegedly knocked pictures off the walls and rendered telephone conversations “difficult to impossible.”
Although there had been no problems with the Silvermans’ water supply since their purchase, blasting in mid-2017 allegedly turned the well water brown, lowered pressure, and resulted in thick red sludge collecting in the water filter, so that the filter had to be cleaned as often as three times a day. The walls allegedly began bowing inward and cracking. Other properties on York Street Extension also began showing cracks, and, claiming the highway was being endangered by the blasting, the town of Poultney issued a cease and desist letter to the company, according to court papers.
Since blasting has stopped, the well has returned to normal, the Silvermans said in their court documents.
Poultney quarry, Part Two
POULTNEY—The Poultney Planning Commission met with more than 20 individuals from local slate-quarrying companies Jan. 29 to consider a change in setback requirements. Current regulations call for all “pits, dumps, and buildings” to be 200 feet or more from any residence or property line. Jonathan Hill of Greenstone Slate objected that the 200-foot buffer requirement is not clear.
Slate industry reps had proposed a 25-foot setback for all quarries not exempted by special-interest legislation in 1995 but amended their proposal to 40 feet, a standard for some industrial activities, Town Manager and Zoning Administrator Paul Donaldson told the Rutland Herald. The exemption from Act 250 Criterion 10 applies to any quarry registered prior to Jan. 1, 1997, and does not regulate as to depth of quarry, effect on wells, explosive charge weight limitation, and other Act 250 limitations, according to Bill Burke, District 1 Environmental Commission.
The setback distance is the only part of the earlier proposals on which Poultney Planning Commission and industry representatives fail to find common ground, Donaldson said. Commission Chair Mark Teeter asked slate quarry reps to determine when the buildings on their quarry properties were built and if that was before the quarry became operational.
Donaldson commented that some quarry members believe property owners built residences knowing the proximity of the quarries.
Rep. Patty McCoy, R-Poultney, said she favors the 200-foot buffer to protect preexisting homes. The question becomes whether quarries that predate zoning bylaws are subject to them. Town attorney Neil Vreeland said maybe an amendment to the proposal can be grandfathered, covered by conditional use.
Members of the Planning Commission remain divided on how much setback is reasonable.
The public’s right to know
CASTLETON—Castleton’s new town manager, Mike Jones, started work Jan. 29, saying he plans to improve communications with town residents on his way to developing a “functional and effective team.” He told the Rutland Herald he plans to hold an open house in the (relatively) new town offices, 263 Rt. 30 North. Also on his agenda is developing a strategic plan for the town.
Unfortunately, Jones is beginning his town leadership amidst what could become public controversy. There appears to have been no public Select Board vote on his hiring. Although the state’s open meeting law allows executive session meetings for select boards and other public organizations to discuss personnel issues, decisionmaking itself is required to take place in an open meeting, whether for either a “public officer or employee.”
When Jones started work Jan. 29, the town website showed no record of the board’s decision to hire him. On Jan. 29 and Jan. 30, the website displayed meeting minutes from Jan. 8, 15, and 22, (all Mondays), according to the Rutland Herald. After the Herald inquiry, minutes from Wednesday, Jan. 10 appeared on the website, showing the decision to hire Jones. The state requires that minutes must be available to the public within five days after all public select board meetings and posted to the town website, if the town has one.
Select Board Chair Joseph Bruno objected, saying that meeting records need not be posted on the town website, and telling a reporter that asking about timely website posting in this instance was harassment.
The Herald quoted Secretary of State Jim Condos as saying: “I suggest he follow the law. He should have been following that law already. It’s about the public’s right to know.”
Local collegians make term honors lists
Lakes Region-based college students are no slouches in hitting the 2017-2018 Castleton University and CCV honors lists. Students that came from local schools make up a substantial portion of both the President’s List and the Dean’s List.
At Castleton, President’s List students are full-time students with a 4.0 grade point average. They include Lindsey Marcy, Samantha MacEachron, and Kelsey Butler from Castleton and Caleb Larson and Julia Carone from Bomoseen. Other President’s List honorees are Kristian Bruce from Orwell; Weslee Thompson, Wells; Brian Commins, Poultney; and Marie Park, Hydeville.
Castleton Dean’s List students are full-time students with a grade point average of 3.5 or higher. Poultney students on the Dean’s List include Ryan Mattison, David Burns, Tyler-Joseph Ballard, Martin VanBuren and Calvin Brooks. Louisha Coppins, Virgil Van Guilder, Shelby Fillmore, Chyene Williams, Kelley Daley, Jessica Penwarden, Samantha Rheaume, Ian Misencik, and Dylan Ellis are from Fair Haven.
Castleton students on the Dean’s List include Melissa Angelo Coloutti, Zijie Wan, John Culpo, Bethany Lanfear, Jenna Ray, Eric Ray, Andrea Doran, Molly March, Savanah Graves, Daniel Martineau, Emily Buchtman, Aimee Fortier, and Nicholas Hooker. Timothea Carone and Abigail Ferrara are from Bomoseen; Catherine Clifford and Monica Connor hail from Orwell. Andrea Kibling is from West Pawlet; Kaleb LaRock, Benson; and Cara Cummings, West Haven.
At the Community College of Vermont, the President’s List honors full-time students who earned a 4.0 GPA; the Dean’s List recognizes full-time students with a 3.5-3.995 GPA. Paula Seamans of Middletown Springs and Emma Kerson of Pawlet made the President’s List. On the CCV Dean’s List were Tiffan Saltis of Castleton, Devon Harding of Fair Haven, and Michael Knoepfel of Hydeville. There were no CCV Student Honors recipients.
Assigning fault in fatal shooting
POULTNEY—Jonathan Testa, 22, faces a maximum of 78 years in prison if convicted of all charges in the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Daniel Hein in December 2016. Although Testa did not actually fire the shot that killed Hein, Testa brought the gun to the vehicle where he, Hein, William Bailey and Dylan Czarnecki had been sitting, reported the Rutland Herald. The four young men had been drinking alcohol and taking Benadryl.
Testa had said at the time the .40 caliber Taurus PT-140 was unloaded. Hein held the weapon to his own face and dared Bailey to pull the trigger to prove it wasn’t loaded, court affidavits indicate. Bailey did. Hein died when the gun fired.
Testa told investigating officers that he thought he had removed all the bullets from the gun. Public defender Chris Montgomery, now replaced by Mark Furlan, had argued in a five-page brief that Testa was not responsible for the death because Hein positioned the gun against his own head and told Bailey to pull the trigger. Hein’s actions were “both the cause in fact and proximate cause of his death,” Montgomery wrote, saying that the state would have to prove Testa was more than simply careless but went far beyond the actions of a reasonable person in order to convict Testa of criminal negligence.
The state’s line of reasoning for Testa’s conviction cited multiple precedents in which the chain of causation created the circumstances in which a death occurred. One such case was that of a man laying out a shooting target so that shots were fired toward a neighbor’s house; the neighbor was killed by a stray bullet. The man who set up the target received a manslaughter conviction although it was not determined he fired the fatal shot. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction based on the firing range orientation and on his inviting other shooters to take part, State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy wrote.
That same principle applied to Testa’s behavior, she elaborated. Testa did more than bring the gun. He initiated retrieving the gun and invited others to handle it.
The 78-year potential sentence includes adding in alleged thefts that include that of the gun he brought to the vehicle. He is currently held in jail, unable to pay a $100,000 bail fee.
Bailey pled no contest to a single charge of manslaughter for Hein’s death when he appeared in Rutland criminal court Jan. 23. The state agreed to sentence him for three to five years, suspended with two years to serve and a probation of at least 10 years after his prison release. His plea agreement requires him to be available to testify at any trials resulting from the case.
Before the shooting, Hein had stated to policed that he, Testa, and Andrew McCrea, also of Poultney, had participated in several Poultney burglaries that included the theft of the gun.
CASTLETON—Castleton Village School students began their Lifetime Activities program in mid-January. The school received a National Winter Sports Education Foundation grant for $2,150, which covers school bus cost and allows two ski program scholarships.
Castleton Elementary School’s water lead testing was dismaying. As a precaution, all water fountains in the building have been shut off; students have access to new filler stations for water bottles and drinks. The state Agency of Natural Resources is partnering with the school to meet the immediate need.