Neighbors of a permitted sand pit operation on McMullen Road have signed a settlement agreement with the business operators and the town to address noise and safety, court documents show.
Members of the Winter Lane Homeowners Association have been opposed to J&M Sand’s pit since it was proposed back in 2015. The town’s development review board approved an updated plan in April 2017, but the HOA appealed this ruling to the Environmental Court, saying the town didn’t properly warn the new hearing. The HOA concurrently appealed the project’s Act 250 permit.
Approved June 22, the settlement amends the Act 250 permit and incorporates memoranda of understanding with the town and with J&M Sand.
The permit now requires J&M to install two additional signs: One bars trucks from “[idling] unreasonably” at or near the pit, and the other bans using engine brakes at the entrance and exit. It also orders J&M to plant five white pine trees that are 5-feet-7-inches tall southwest of other trees depicted on the project’s site plan.
The agreement only slightly modified the permissible times of operation, clarifying the pit will be closed from December 21 to April 30 annually. The pit is allowed to open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, except state and federal holidays and Green Up Day.
The other 30-plus conditions in the original permit are unchanged.
For its part, the town agreed to increase police patrols, especially when the pit is operating; install pedestrian safety signs on McMullen Road; work in “good faith” to see the “no Jake-brake” rule is followed; and install double yellow and white line striping near the project. The latter piece will be done within a year, the MOU says.
The MOU between the neighbors and J&M is confidential, according to Karen Ciechanowicz, the authorized agent for the Winter Lane residents. She wouldn’t specify if she and her neighbors received compensation from J&M to settle the case.
“We can certainly co-exist with these conditions,” Ciechanowicz said. “I have only good things to say about J&M Sand company. They want to be good neighbors, and they understand the concerns people have with living so close to a sand extraction site. They were amazing to work with.”
The tune is certainly a changed one from prior DRB hearings, where HOA members and other sand pit neighbors converged to express opposition, sometimes very passionately.
John Hemsted, the de facto leader of the sand pit opposition since 2015 and an East Rd. resident, accused a former town staffer of purposely misleading him about a sand pit hearing in March 2016. Others argued the town’s notification process was biased since it allows project applicants to decide whom to notify. They said J&M notified fewer residents in 2017 than the town did in 2015 on the project’s first go-round.
But Ciechanowicz said meeting with the parties outside a court-sanctioned mediation process made the neighbors feel heard.
“That’s what most humans want is to feel like they’ve been heard and to have that understanding,” she said.
Though the MOU doesn’t speak to this, Ciechanowicz said she’s pleased the town will now commit to mailing notices to residents who live on the other side of a railroad crossing. Vermont law essentially says anyone who lives opposite a private right-of-way, like a railroad, doesn’t need notice.
“It feels like [this agreement is] for more than just Winter Lane,” she said.
She’s also pleased J&M co-owner Kevin Murdough provided his cell phone number and established an open line of communication with the neighbors.
For his part, Murdough said the conditions won’t negatively impact his business.
“We’ll be able to work with it,” he said. “It’s not the end of the world.”
Murdough said it will be a month or so before the pit, which sits on a 75-acre parcel leased from the Jenkins Family Trust, can open. He says once it is, it will be a “low-key” operation, with only himself and another employee reporting for work daily.
He said there’s a limited supply of mound sand on the property, which J&M will extract and deliver for use in septic systems and for backfill for homes and other construction projects.
He’ll operate it with his uncle, Paul Jarvis. The duo previously ran a sand pit on Sanderson Road, which is now closed; the reclaimed land now hosts a family home, he said.
“As far as I’m concerned, we have a good track record,” Murdough said.
He thinks the pit will create competition in a tight market, since there are only a handful of places that sell mound sand in the county.
The permit allows J&M to extract 40,000 cubic yards of sand a year for 10 years. The pit must cease operation by July 2027.