Originally published in the Manchester Journal on August 9, 2017
DANBY — The Fuller Sand and Gravel Corporation may soon be able to commence operations on Danby’s former Griffith & Falzo pit, after many objections filed by neighbors William and Ingrid Halligan were denied by Vermont’s Act 250 District 1 Commission.
Earlier this year Thomas Fuller of Fuller Sand & Gravel had expressed interest in purchasing the pit, utilizing it over the next three decades to extract 15,000 cubic yards annually for gravel and asphalt production.
“There were several conditions that the Halligans had requested be altered, and the commission granted part of them but not all,” said Joyce Fagan, a Natural Resources Board technician for District 1, Rutland County. “They read all of the documents and consider everything that is submitted.”
While the Halligans do have the option to appeal the decision in environmental court, they have expressed frustration at the operation’s proximity to their property.
“These people [the District 1 Commission] get together and work hard and try to do the best they can,” said Ingrid Halligan, who submitted eight objections to the permit on issues like truck traffic, inspection, and aesthetics alongside her husband. “When there’s no zoning and planning in town, I get the impression that they have better things to do.”
“We’ve been here since 1989, and I grew up at the house right at the pit,” said Tom Fuller, owner of the Fuller Sand and Gravel Corporation. “The pits have been here since the 40s and 50’s, and that industry is a big part of this area. Employment in Danby is available to few of us, and I’m trying to provide that to as many people as I can.”
A long history
William and Ingrid Halligan have long opposed the gravel excavation at the Fuller Sand & Gravel pit, across the street from their residential property on Danby’s South Main St., where the proposed expansion would occur. The previous owners of the area were were issued a notice of alleged violation from the Natural Resources Board in 2014 for beginning to utilize an area that “had been largely unused for an extended period prior to September of 2003” without a permit.
“We have lived directly across from the property for 20 years. There was not a pit across from our home,” said the Halligans in the commentary they submitted on the issue in 2015. “To the south is the Griffith Farm Pit, established in the 1940’s [but] not in use. To the north [is] Fuller Sand and Gravel, a grandfathered pit. The Fuller Pit was used on a small scale until 2007. It is now an asphalt plant.”
The Halligans noted that in July of 2012 they noticed trees being removed “at an alarming rate” on the Griffith and Falzo property, with gravel extraction commencing soon after.
“To allow the Danby Pit to continue is allowing another pit to slip under the fence of the law,” read the letter. “That would be a shame after all [of] the hard work of Act 250.”
The state of Vermont enacted Act 250 to provide a “public, quasi-judicial process for reviewing and managing the environmental, social, and fiscal consequences of major subdivisions and developments in Vermont,” according to the Natural Resources Board’s web page on the Act 250 program.
“One of the strengths of Act 250 is the access it provides to neighbors and other interested parties to participate in the development review process,” reads the description of the legislation.
“Trapped in our own home”
The Halligan’s assert that, due to the continually expanding operations at the three pits in their neighborhood, property values in the area have decreased substantially over the last decade.
“When I brought my property in 1996 these were all inactive pits, not by any means used,” said Ingrid Halligan, claiming that extensive damage has been done to her home by blasting operations at the pit. “Even the blasting company agrees, but you have to go through your homeowners insurance. When I applied, I lost my insurance because we live by blasting.”
According to the Halligans, their house was once appraised at $315K but has dropped by almost $100K due to the damage done.
“Over a decade ago I asked Mr. Fuller to take my house for what I owed on it, but he didn’t accept,” said Ingrid. “When things started getting bad about about a year ago, he only offered $188K for it.”
“My property value has declined as well, and nobody will buy our houses unless it’s him,” said neighbor Tracey Porter, noting that multiple houses in the area are for sale. “I’ve been here 19 years.”
The excavation operations in the area themselves can also pose a problem for home sellers, according to the Halligans.
“No one will buy it, because you have to disclose everything like the trucks, and nobody wants that,” said William Halligan. “Even if it’s a winter home, it’s still a problem.”
“We are trapped here,” said Ingrid Halligan. “Where else can we go with the money he offered us?”
Health and safety concerns
Residents of Danby have expressed concern over the potential health and safety dangers the nearby asphalt production may pose, and the Halligan’s claim they’ve felt the effects for years.
“You wake up in the middle of the night with splitting headaches because the asphalt has to turn,” said Ingrid Halligan. “You wake up and your eyes are glued together, and that’s when the windows are closed.”
“It stinks,” said Porter. “You have to close your windows, and then the house gets stuffy.”
The truck traffic for the operation, limited to 70 round-trips per day, is also of concern. The Halligans also fear for the long-term environmental impact of the projects.
“These grandfathered pits [existing prior to the enactment of Act 250] when they leave, they have no obligation to reclaim the land or clean up the mess,” said Halligan. “They don’t have to do anything about it.”
“That’s why we fought so hard for the Griffith Fazio permit [the expansion],” said Ingrid Halligan. “That has to be reclaimed. The Abbott pit doesn’t have to be it’s grandfathered in.”
Fuller, on the other hand, claims that the development of the pit will be better for the community overall.
“Without an act 250 permit on that land, there would not be a reclamation,” said Fuller. “The fact that the reclamation is guaranteed through the permit is a good thing for the town; no one would have been responsible for re-claiming that area [partially developed by previous owners] if it had been left alone.”
From friendship to fracture
For the Halligans, the issue isn’t personal.
“I have personally nothing against them. Mr. Tom Fuller used to come here every Sunday morning,” said Ingrid Halligan. “I served him more coffee than my husband.”
The Act 250 Commission arbitration process, according to the Halligans, can create problems within a community like theirs where close to a dozen citizens have taken issue with the operations.
“One of the problems with our state is that they pit neighbor against neighbor,” said Ingrid Halligan. “It’s very hard because you know the kids, you know the families.”
“Across the pit is Easy Street and they’re starting to feel the effects as well,” said Porter. “They don’t seem to care about what we’re dealing with.”
Many in the community feel that such an operation is not efficient in a modern economy, especially not within a small community.
“This is nothing against the workers, they’re hard working people, but it’s very old fashioned to think that this is good for the economy,” said Ingrid Halligan. “It doesn’t employ a large majority of people full time, and then it depresses values of the neighborhood so much that it’s no longer a good thing for the economy — that isn’t just me, that’s the research I’ve done.”
Beyond the monetary loss the Halligans allege they’ve faced, they feel their community has also suffered.
“It is absolutely devastating to me that this could happen to a community,” she said. “An asphalt plant doesn’t belong in a village.”