Gravel pit

An aerial shot of the Morristown gravel pit.

Morristown has received a long-awaited state land use permit allowing it to access a new portion of its gravel pit for the next quarter century, but it’s too late to start digging in this year, leaving the town to buy its dirt, sand and gravel once again from other suppliers.

There is an estimated 700,000 cubic yards’ worth of material in the pit that the town expects will meet its needs for the next 25 years — enough to fill roughly 54,000 dump trucks. That is, once the town can access it.

The Act 250 permit, which the town first prepared nearly three years ago, was issued last week by the District 5 Environmental Commission.

The permit is a hefty read loaded with stipulations governing the town’s activities. Morristown town administrator Eric Dodge said it will take the town and its lawyers a while to wade through.

“Just about every town department is working on this right now,” Dodge said Tuesday. “Right now, it’s a matter of working through the parts we can work through and waiting on the ones we can’t.”

Two budgets

It’s the beginning of budget season for Vermont towns, and Dodge said without a gravel pit of its own to legally access, Morristown has had to resort to purchasing roadwork materials from other vendors, which he said costs the town a lot more than being able to use its own sand and gravel.

The reclamation of the previous used-up section of pit — which involves bringing the disturbed area back to something resembling a pastoral natural area — is largely done, Dodge said. But there is still plenty of preparation work to be done before the new phase, such as removing trees and building a “haul road” sturdy enough to withstand all those thousands of dump truck runs over the next 25 years.

He said as it becomes clearer over time just how quickly the town can start Phase 3 operations — working within the confines of the Act 250 permit — the highway budget will also become clearer. The plan is to budget for purchasing materials through the 2023-24 fiscal year while also budgeting for a modicum of gravel pit operations.

If Phase 3 can begin during the next fiscal year, Dodge said, the town will simply transfer the funds in the materials purchase budget to the pit operations budget.

“We’re trying to look at two different budget scenarios,” he said.

Strings attached

The Act 250 permit comes with a lot of strings — 77 of them, to be exact. That’s the number of conditions the District 5 Environmental Commission placed on the town for the use of its pit over the next quarter century.

The town will be allowed to remove roughly 31,000 cubic yards of material each year, including 6,000 cubic yards annually for “special projects.”

Water is a big limiting factor, and one that neighbors Don and Lela Avery took a key interest in as the primary third-party participants in the process.

To that end, the four extraction areas have strict elevation levels that must not be breached by digging equipment. The authorized elevation is 705 feet above sea level, but the permit dictates that the town immediately report if any extraction encounters the water, and notes that since water table elevations vary over time, the town must “exercise vigilance” when digging.

The permit also requires the town to allow recreation on the property, even in the proposed extraction area, where it’s practical and safe. Once the haul road is complete, the town must work with recreational trail users to make sure there’s a suitable trail crossing to allow access on both sides of the road.

Before the town can dig into Phase 3, it is required to set aside and preserve 276 acres of the overall property for open space and recreation.

“The Cadys Falls network, as a grassroots neighborhood trail system, brings great value to our community,” reads a trail users statement that was included in the Act 250 hearing. “Community members have regularly ridden bikes, snowshoed, skied, and walked with their families and pets on the Cadys Falls trail network for over three decades.”

Other stipulations call for:

• Oversight from the state, with officials allowed access the property “at reasonable times” to keep an eye on compliance with environmental and health laws.

• Keeping dust at bay, with requirements that the town apply calcium chloride to the unpaved trafficked areas, sweep paved areas and generally prevent “fugitive dust emissions” from trucks and dirt piles.

• Keeping things as quiet as possible, with restrictions on when, where and how much the crusher can be used, prohibiting plows on dump trucks and continually assessing them to eliminate any “metallic rattles” when driving along Duhamel Road.

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