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Newfane voters have approved purchasing property for a sand and gravel pit.

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Newfane voters approve land buy for gravel pit

Voters approve borrowing $600,000 to purchase and create a gravel pit for town use — a decision that town officials say makes financial sense even though the cost of the parcel has more than doubled since 2019

NEWFANE—It took a couple of amendments and a defeated paper ballot request, but 65 voters who turned out for Special Town Meeting Dec. 7 have agreed to buy about 21 acres of land for $450,000 to use as a town gravel pit.

Voters also agreed to borrow up to $600,000 to cover the purchase price and attendant costs for the parcel, owned by Paul Belogour, at Radway Hill and River roads.

Selectboard member Ann Golob explained that the option to purchase the property first came up in 2019 when Selectboard member Mike Fitzpatrick brought it to the board’s attention.

But most people, including board members, didn’t have on their radar the notion of rising costs for sand and gravel and iffy availability, and the board did not act on the option.

Then, the land was owned by the estate of the late Nicholas Mercede, not Belogour, and the asking price was $195,000.

“At the time, we did not have the severe need and lack of availability and cost, so we did not feel at that time with those Selectboard members to proceed looking at that parcel as a gravel pit,” said Selectboard member Shelly Huber. “We were just not in the mindset of purchasing a gravel pit. But today, we are. It’s changed. Severely.”

“It feels like a scenario where, more than likely, it’s best to kind of hold your nose and go for it,” said resident Carlos Escobar. “It only seems like it’s worth quadruple the purchase price to someone who’s going to use it for the purpose we need to use it for. Who’s coming up with the quadruple sale price?”

“We all felt the same way,” answered Huber.

“It is the only gravel pit within our town and we have made an agreement with the owner of the property that we have to make a vote and if the vote doesn’t go through, then we have no other option for the property,” she said.

“It goes up for sale for another town or they take it back, they put some houses on it,” Huber continued. “The price was the price, so there was no negotiation. They would not negotiate. It was a pretty simple process. We either take it or we don’t take it.”

Golob pointed out that the owner was “happy to go ahead with his original plan to sell it for houses,” but did “begrudgingly” agree to offer it to the town until the special vote.

The Selectboard also signed a letter of intent promising a closing within 120 days of the Dec. 7 vote.

Why buy?

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 this winter [“Newfane voters to consider buying sand/gravel pit,” News, Dec. 1].

During the Special Town Meeting, it was noted that if the town didn’t move on the buy now, and with sand and gravel prices still on the rise, purchases would be at market price — if the needed commodities to deal with winter weather and road safety can even be procured.

With the new gravel pit, the savings to the town over 10 years is projected to be $2,124,046.

Before the voting, Golob explained to voters that if the town buys the land, a house worth $200,000 will see an increase of $60 annually to pay for the gravel and sand budget line items for one year only.

That’s because, in the first year, the town would be repaying the loan, plus the property would not be available to extract sand and gravel from until the lengthy Act 250 permitting process is completed, so the town will have to buy sand and gravel for that first year.

Act 250 is Vermont’s land use and development law, enacted in 1970 at a time when the state was undergoing significant development pressure. The law provides a public, quasi-judicial process for reviewing and managing environmental, social, and fiscal consequences of major subdivisions and developments.

However, there is another line item for loans in the road budget, and the town has two loans that will be repaid this year. So, taking those three line items together — sand, gravel, and loan repayment — the overall impact would be a $20 increase for one year, not $60.

For the following nine years, the town will not be buying sand and gravel but will be paying back the loan. The actual amount spent to do so will be slightly less than what is currently budgeted, or $135,000 annually.

Based on a report by Savoy Engineering that analyzed the composition of the gravel and sand on two-thirds of the site, there is sufficient material to meet the town’s gravel needs for at least 30 years. Available sand at the site is anticipated to last even longer.

Concerns about the Brookline bridge and washouts, potential erosion, and drained culverts were addressed by noting that the town still has to apply for a needed Act 250 permit, where such things will be addressed.

Selectboard members answered a question about selling gravel by saying that would complicate the permitting process.

Asked about right of first refusal to buy the land, board members noted that the owner “is waiting for the outcome of our vote tonight. A signed letter of intent promises a closing within 120 days of tonight’s vote.”

Resident Dan DeWalt moved to amend the motion by adding “sole” before “use” to ensure that the pit would be used only by the town. A voice vote was taken and defeated.

Road Commissioner Chris Williams explained that no other possible pits are available and called for a paper ballot without a second to that motion, which then did not go forward.

The original motion to buy the site was amended with the caveat that its cost “not exceed” $450,000. That motion passed by voice vote.

Ultimately, resident Jon Mack called the question and the land buy was approved, as amended, by unanimous voice.

With another friendly amendment for borrowing “not to exceed” $600,000, the borrowing question also passed, as amended, by unanimous voice vote.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #643 (Wednesday, December 15, 2021). This story appeared on page A1.

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