NEWFANE—Looking to save money on sand and gravel, the town has called a Special Town Meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 7 at the NewBrook Fire Department to ask voters to approve buying a gravel pit and borrowing $600,000 to accomplish the plan.
Selectboard members are recommending buying a 21-acre site at Radway Hill and River roads owned by entrepreneur Paul Belogour for $450,000.
But voters will be asked to approve borrowing nearly $600,000 to cover startup costs, as well as the cost of a needed Act 250 permit.
“At the Dec. 7 meeting we will answer any questions from town residents, and we have several photos available to show what the site looks like today,” said Selectboard Chair Angela Litchfield-Sanborn. “We hope residents will come out to learn more about the proposal and cast their votes.”
For sand and gravel, a 54-percent price hike
The cost of gravel and sand has risen 54 percent in the past year, and the town budget for these two items has had to be increased from $145,000 annually to $223,000 to pay for the amount needed for the coming winter season.
“It is becoming more and more difficult to find contractors that have sand and gravel to sell — at any price,” said Road Foreman Jay Wilson.
“We use about 12,000 cubic yards of gravel and sand every year,” he said. “With over 800,000 cubic yards available on just 13 of the 21 acres, this will be a boon for the town for years to come.”
Selectboard member Mike Fitzpatrick agreed.
“Purchasing the property now will ensure that we have the materials we need and at a price that is not continually increasing,” he said.
Based on a report by Savoy Engineering that analyzed the composition of the gravel and sand on two-thirds of the site, there should be material to meet the town’s gravel needs for at least 30 years. The available sand at the site would last even longer.
The analysis was made on just 13 of the 21 acres and is based on visual examination; the additional eight acres have a similar composition.
Why are prices rising?
CNBC London reported on March 5 that “an insatiable global appetite for sand, one of the world’s most important but least appreciated commodities, is unlikely to let up anytime soon. The problem, however, is that this resource is slipping away.”
“Our entire society is built on sand. It is the world’s most consumed raw material after water and an essential ingredient to our everyday lives,” says the report.
“Sand is the primary substance used in the construction of roads, bridges, high-speed trains and even land regeneration projects. Sand, gravel and rock crushed together are melted down to make the glass used in every window, computer screen and smart phone. Even the production of silicon chips uses sand.
“Yet, the world is facing a shortage — and climate scientists say it constitutes one of the greatest sustainability challenges of the 21st century.”
The shortage is not local to Vermont or to the U.S., but worldwide — and prices are expected to continue to climb.
A recent United Nations report forecast that the global rate of sand use — which has tripled over the last two decades, partially as a result of surging urbanization — far exceeds the natural rate at which sand is being replenished by the weathering of rocks by wind and water.
International trade in sand and gravel is growing due to high demand in regions without local sand and gravel resources and is anticipated to rise 5.5 percent a year with current urbanization and infrastructure development trends.
The costs here
The anticipated start-up costs for Newfane include an estimated $5,000 in legal fees, an initial engineering report costing $4,500, and other costs totaling $10,000. The latter costs include paying for a gate to keep vehicles out of the pit and site work to remove small trees.
The required Act 250 permit is estimated to cost $100,000. If approved, the town will apply for a loan of up to $600,000 to be repaid over 10 years at about 2 percent interest.
The application process is a lengthy one, requiring documentation about impact on erosion, water, air pollution, traffic, and aesthetics.
Additionally, the town must provide plans to screen the pit from houses and the road, as well as an archaeological analysis.
Completing permit requirements and receiving state approval should take approximately one year.
The cost for testing and to hire a consultant to oversee the project can run from $75,000 to $100,000. The state recently ruled that such permits are good for just five years and will have to be renewed subsequently.
A presentation available on the town website pointed out that there is no need to blast rock to acquire gravel and sand from the site. If that were the case, all water wells within a half mile of the site would have to be tested — potentially increasing the cost up to $400,000.
Ongoing expenses are estimated to include $65,000 for screening sand, crushing gravel, and trucking to the town garage, a process that would be done once a year. Clearing is estimated at $5,000, for an annual operating expense total of $70,000.
This parcel was sold in February for $100,000. The assessed value is $148,000; taxes paid on the parcel are $3,800.
Even with the significant increase in the price of the parcel, Selectboard members have pointed out that Putney and Dummerston, which collectively made a similar municipal land purchase for the same reasons, is paying $2 million for 32 acres or 750,000 cubic yards.
If approved, Newfane will be paying $450,000 for 823,000 cubic yards (21 acres).
The slide presentation posits that if the town doesn’t buy the gravel pit and continues to buy sand and gravel on the open market, and assuming those costs rise 10 percent each year, then over the next 10 years the town will spend $3.55 million, versus spending $1.43 million if voters agree to the plan. The savings is projected to be $2.12 million.
The in-person vote — the meeting will not be viewable via Zoom — is expected to be a floor vote, not a paper ballot, unless requested at the meeting by at least seven registered voters.
The warning for the meeting is available at newfanevt.com/special-town-meeting-warning.