The Shelburne Selectboard rejected the latest calls on behalf of residents and businesses to either delay or revise a controversial newly enacted hazardous materials ordinance.
The ordinance was approved, 3-2, on Aug. 8 despite serious objections and questions from some town officials, residents and well-known local businesses, including a few firms that said they might be forced to fold if it became law.
The ordinance was passed the night before the town was due to respond to legal filings in a federal court lawsuit involving Vermont Railway and its salt storage facility in Shelburne. The facility would come under tighter local restrictions under the new ordinance, a point Vermont Railway continues to dispute in its ongoing case against the town. The railroad and other ordinance opponents have maintained that state and federal regulations regarding hazardous materials make it unnecessary for a municipality to have a separate ordinance.
After continued concerns were expressed at Tuesday’s meeting, Selectboard members Jerry Storey and Josh Dein made two motions in response to the comments, but neither passed.
One motion was for the Selectboard at its next regular meeting on Sept. 26 to consider moving the effective date of the ordinance from early October to January 2018 and to weigh other options including reworking or rescinding the ordinance.
The second motion was for the Selectboard to establish a working group comprised of knowledgeable townspeople and staff to work on possible changes in the ordinance in the coming months. Fire Chief Jerry Ouimet, who objects to the ordinance in its current form, was suggested to lead such a group.
Both motions died when the board deadlocked 2-2 with Selectboard members John Kerr and Dr. Colleen Parker opposing the suggestions. Board chairman Gary von Stange was absent Tuesday evening.
The split votes came shortly after Parker and Kerr were criticized during the public comment portion of the meeting that they always vote in agreement with von Stange.
Resident Sean Moran complained that von Stange claims he supports open government, but “his transparency is non-transparency.”
Dein noted that he seeks the best information available to make a decision and that there are experts in Shelburne who could help with the ordinance. He questioned the rush to enact the new measure without any evidence that there is a danger to Shelburne.
He also questioned claims by some town officials that the new ordinance had been under discussion for a long time in Shelburne. Chairman von Stange has previously said that the measure has been considered for three years. “I’m not aware of any discussions of it,” Dein said.
“This ordinance isn’t needed. It needs to be rescinded,” said Dein, to brief applause from the audience.
Kerr responded to the audience, “Please, please.”
Dein criticized the measure saying it was crafted “without knowledge of hazardous materials and what the potential ramifications” of enacting it would be.
Dein also suggested that some support for the ordinance may have been based on erroneous information given to the Selectboard, including that the town fire chief supported it. Chief Ouimet was absent when the measure was adopted and has called for it to be repealed and rewritten, possibly with assistance from the state.
As acting chairman Tuesday evening, Kerr said he would ask Town Manager Joe Colangelo to set up a timeline to review the matter based on comments the town received and maybe establish a working group. He suggested that a special Selectboard meeting also could be called.
Storey objected to putting off action. “I think it ought to be our decision tonight,” he said.
Kerr questioned whether the Selectboard could take action on something not already listed on its agenda for the meeting. Dein disagreed noting that the agenda listed the ordinance and a possible timeline for amendments as business items for the meeting.
Colangelo said he “did not feel comfortable” about the board making a motion because the topic was not listed as an action item on the agenda. The agenda listed that item as “no official action anticipated.”
Dr. Steven Metz, a local resident in attendance, called for a point of order given that a motion had been made and supported, so the chair could not ignore it.
Kerr said he was not ignoring the motions, but rather trying to understand them. “It is not completely clear even though I am sitting right next to him,” Kerr told the audience and then asked: “Do you want to vote on your motion, Jerry?”
Storey replied, “That’s why I made it.”
Colangelo repeated his concern with the Selectboard considering the motions.
Kerr said he felt put in “an uncomfortable position” that could have consequences.
The board proceeded to vote and deadlock 2-2 on both proposals, ending the discussion.
Ethics Committee and hearings for library bond
In other business, the Selectboard heard a report from Lee Suskin, chair of the town’s Ethics Committee, who said the committee received two complaints so far this year. One in February was withdrawn and the other came last week but the committee did not find probable cause to take any action. Both cases are sealed from public view as to who filed them and against whom they were made.
Suskin urged the board to allow the committee to spend up to $2,500 for outside legal expenses when they might need legal help, explaining that the committee may not always have time to seek approval for legal guidance when a complaint is made. The Selectboard declined act on his request, saying they would consider it at a future meeting.
The Selectboard also approved the warning and wording of a resolution for a special Town Meeting on Nov. 7 for voters to consider a $6.5 million bond for a new library, renovations to the historic Town Hall, and improvements to the Municipal Campus.
Dein said he supported putting the matter up for a vote but added that he thought there are questions about the project that still need public discussion given that it is believed to be the costliest project in town government history.
Preliminary estimates suggest that the bond would add $35 in taxes for every $100,000 of assessed property value, according to the town manager.
The board scheduled public hearings about the library bond for Oct. 24 and Nov. 6.