Act 250 Drops Bombshell

Front Page / Feb. 14, 2008 12:00am EST

On ClearSource, Inc.

By M. D. Drysdale

The Act 250 District 3 Commission dropped a bombshell on ClearSource, Inc. of Randolph last week, ruling that it must adhere to permits received in 1998, dictating truck trips on Rogers Road, traffic at the Route 66 bottling plant, hours of operation, parking spaces, and discharges into the Randolph sewer system.

District 3 Chairman Bushrod Powers of Royalton and Commissioner Paul Kendall of Woodstock issued the ruling Feb. 7.

Several aspects of ClearSouce’s operations do not come close to complying with those 1998 limits, and the company’s new CEO, Jay Land, said he was "totally caught off guard … It’s a nightmare."

Ironically, the issue that has stirred most controversy over the last decade—truck traffic on Rogers Road—is the least of ClearSource’s problems with the new Act 250 ruling. The 1998 permit allowed one round trip per hour to the spring on Rogers Road, and that is approximately what is being taken from that source now, according to several sources. ClearSource officials said they could live with that limit.

Impossible to live with, however, is the Commission’s reaffirmation of a limit of 120 round trips per day into the bottling plant—for all vehicles "including traffic associated with employees, shift changes, deliveries, distribution and water hauling trucks."

Were the company to immediately act on this requirement, "the result would be a mass layoff this morning in the plant," said Land.

He pointed out that the company employs 55 people now and close to 100 people at peak. Just getting his employees in and out of the plant every day would be impossible under the rule of 120 trips a day, he said.

"I’d have to tell them that if you go home for lunch you have to stay home," he pointed out. "But I will not do that to the people in that plant."

He said the company would appeal.

"We have to appeal for the benefit of our people. There are people up there who have made a career out of that facility."

The permit also appeared to restrict both the bottling plant and the trucks to operating just five days a week when, in fact, they have been operating weekends, as well.

Welcomed by Neighbors

The Act 250 verdict was welcomed, however, by a group of Rogers Road neighbors and others, including Vermonters for a Clean Environment, who had been arguing for years against increasing the permitted truck traffic.

"I’m pleased that Act 250 has chosen to pay attention to what the people said," said Jonathan Walters, whose home is closest to the springhead where trucks draw water, and who can hear the trucks every time they start up the hill across from his house, changing gears as they accelerate.

"It seems as though Act 250 feels that growth has gone unchecked and that Act 250 has not been as involved as it should have been," Walters said. "We’re all very pleased."

Walters also said he was happy that the Act 250 Commission rebuked the Randolph Development Review Board (DRB). The DRB had granted ClearSouce 240 truckloads of water delivery per week, including Saturday and Sunday. ClearSource’s application to amend its Act 250 permit was partly an attempt by the company to ask Act 250 to agree with the DRB’s guidelines.

That tactic didn’t work, as the Commission asserted Act 250’s authority.

"Without a comprehensive traffic analysis … the Commission cannot approve the requested increase," Powers and Kendall wrote.

Sewage Discharges

If ClearSource is stuck between two regulators as regards to the trucking, the company is also answering to two masters with regards to its sewage discharges.

The Act 250 permit limits the discharge to 2960 gallons of sewage per day. However, the company currently discharges about 8000 gallons a day—a big decrease from a peak of 23,000 gallons a couple of years ago.

ClearSource officials were in town only last week to negotiate with the selectboard about the discharges. The town has authorized discharges of 13,000 gallons a day—if a sufficient allocation fee is paid. The company is asking for a permit of just 8000 gallons a day, at a smaller payment for allocation.

Neither party has suggested that the bottling plant could operate at a discharge rate of 2960 gallons a day. That, however, is the amount identified in the 1998 Act 250 permit, and that’s all that’s allowed, the commission said.

The District 3 Commission said its Feb. 7 permit was issued merely to "clarify the previous permit conditions." If ClearSource wants to obtain permits for more truck trips and a higher level of operation, it said, it would have to present hard evidence.

Evidence must include, it said, a detailed traffic analysis (that would include aesthetics, historic sites, dust control, idling, and noise), an analysis with regard to the town plan, and a complete hydrological assessment at the well site.

Walters this week pointed out that various ideas for mitigation have been discussed over the years, including widening Rogers Road at key points, but they were not carried out.

Most importantly, a study partially financed by state funds indicated that building a pipeline from the Rogers Road wellhead to the bottling plant would be technically feasible and would pay for itself in five or seven years’ time.

"A pipeline would go a long way toward mitigating our problems," Walters observed.

Jay Land of ClearSource said that though this decision was a "fundamental setback," he is not bothered by Vermont’s Act 250. Having done business in other states, he said, it’s in some ways an improvement that Act 250 attempts to create one forum "as a way of managing environmental issues."

Seven Points in Permit

The District 3 Act 250 Commission affirmed last week that operations at ClearSource, Inc. in Randolph are governed by a 1998 permit. Those rules are as follows, it said:

• Limit of 40 vehicle parking spaces.

• Limit of 120 reound trips (for all vehicles) per day at the bottling facility, Monday through Friday.

• Trucking from Spring A (Rogers Road) limited to one round trip per hour and only between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.

• Trucking from Spring H (North Randolph Road) limited to two round trips per week.

• No more than 55 vehicles in the peak afternoon hour at the plant, and 30 in the peak morning hour.

• No truck deliveries of any kind between 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.

• No more than 2960 gallons of sewage per day discharged into the Randolph sewer line. On-site sewage prohibited.

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