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Feds fine Hermitage Club for damage to national forest trails

Owner will pay more than $72,700 in fines, restitution

WILMINGTON—The owner of The Hermitage Club must pay more than $72,700 for damaging three miles of trail in the Green Mountain National Forest.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Vermont said James Barnes of Wilmington has agreed to pay $25,000 in civil fines and $47,761 in restitution for ordering work on a portion of the Deerfield Ridge Trail in November 2012.

In addition to the fact that the project was unauthorized, federal officials said the work “was not done to professional standards and did not include sufficient soil stabilization,” resulting in the need for extensive repairs.

Bennington attorney David F. Silver, who represented Barnes and the Hermitage, said the organization “sincerely regrets mistaking a portion of national forest land for land owned by The Hermitage,” adding that “this was a good-faith mistake based on a 30-year-old ski boundary area marked off by orange markers.”

“We want to be good neighbors,” Silver said.

The settlement is the result of a U.S. Forest Service investigation, which showed that an excavator used to perform the work belonged to Hermitage Inn Real Estate Holding Co. LLC, the U.S. attorney’s office said. Barnes is the principle shareholder for Hermitage.

The federal government had alleged that “Barnes, on behalf of The Hermitage, directed other individuals to use this excavator to conduct the unauthorized trail work, which included excavation and some tree-cutting.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Perella said the trail was widened, and rock and dirt were moved “without adequate mitigation,” rendering the trail more prone to erosion.

The price tag for trail repairs includes emergency mitigation costs, restoration costs, and labor; additional work will happen when restitution is received, officials said. Green Mountain National Forest will get $45,049, while the Green Mountain Club will get $2,712 for assisting with restoration.

In addition to the restitution, Barnes’ $25,000 fine breaks down to $5,000 for each of five federal violations: constructing or maintaining trail without authorization; damaging a Forest Service trail; unlawful operation of a motor vehicle on trails; cutting or damaging timber; and damaging federal property.

From the Hermitage Club’s perspective, the work was aimed at providing “improved and safer trails for the local Deerfield Valley Stump Jumpers and other Vermont snowmobilers,” Silver wrote in an email responding to the U.S. attorney’s Oct. 20 settlement announcement.

“When the mistake was called to the Hermitage Club’s attention, the club immediately ceased operation of the trail and assisted in mitigation (reseeding, haying for erosion and blocking off all trail access points with boulders and felled trees),” Silver wrote. “We greatly appreciate and support the improvements the Forest Service has made to the trail and recognize that it would have been best to have consulted and worked with the Forest Service from the beginning.”

Silver added that “part of the motivation for The Hermitage in entering this agreement with the government is our desire to reimburse the Forest Service for their time and expense in making the trail environmentally and physically safe.”

The federal settlement comes roughly six months after the Hermitage Club was found liable for violations of Vermont’s land-use laws and environmental regulations in connection with various improvements made at the resort. The Hermitage agreed to pay the state $205,000.

The work cited in that state case is not connected to the trail work cited in the federal settlement, officials said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #329 (Wednesday, October 28, 2015). This story appeared on page D1.

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