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Castleberry Fairs

Vermont airport sale vote could impact Groveton


February 24, 2010
ISLAND POND — The town of Groveton could well have an interest in the outcome of next Tuesday's "straw poll" in Brighton.

The Brighton selectmen decided at a special Monday morning meeting to hold an advisory referendum to find out townspeople's views on the proposed sale of the state-owned grass-strip John Boyden Airport on the north side of Route 102.

Voting hours for the referendum run from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 2, near the stage in the Brighton Town Hall. This location is well away from the official booths at which voters will choose elected town officials, explained select board chairman Michael Bresette.

The topic could, however, come up at the previous evening's town meeting on March 1, should the moderator allow a discussion under "New Business," he noted.

The developers — Newport City native Fran Azur and his wife Melanie Gefort, both of Beaver, Penn. — who purchased the former Ethan Allen plant and some adjacent acreage for approximately $1 million in order to start manufacturing 100,000 tons of pellets a year would also like to purchase the state-owned airport for use as a 70-acre storage, debarking, and chip logyard.

Their representatives have said that they have not been able to find another site that has the right soils, topography, and near-to-the-plant location to serve this function.

According to chairman Bresette, the developer has been in touch with the current owner of the combined Wausau-Groveton Paper Board buildings and logyard site on the Upper Ammonoosuc River in Groveton.

Mr. Azur declined to answer a series of questions posed via e-mail about whether or not the Groveton site is, in fact, a realistic alternative, particularly since U. S. Senator Patrick Leahy helped to secure a $10 million loan for the project.

Nine million of it would be USDA-guaranteed.

"Next Tuesday (March 2) is Town meeting day for Vermont towns," Mr. Azur replied.

"At the Brighton Town Meeting I believe there will be a 'straw vote' concerning the possible sale of the airport.

"I believe I should wait until after that Meeting before I discuss the project further with any media -press. I appreciate your interest, but, as you note, these are community-sensitive issues, and nothing is gained (by) discussing different possibilities.

"I think it is better for all to wait until the direction is clearer."

State Sen. Vince Illuzzi (vincentilluzzi@hotmail.com) of Orleans plans to hold an informational meeting before the "straw vote," but on Monday, the time and date had not been confirmed.

He speculated in an e-mail exchange that if the "straw vote" indicated if a majority of Brighton voters do not want the state to sell the airport, then he doubted that it would move forward.

Sen. Illuzzi is the prime sponsor of the Senate Bill 180 that, if passed, would authorize the state to sell the airport. Members of the state Senate Institutions Committee said at the Feb. 11 hearing in Island Pond that in today's world when state-owned land and-or buildings are sold, they go to the highest bidder after a realistic market-based appraisal has been made.

Thirty to 40 workers would be employed directly by the pellet plant, and another 120 to 160 indirect jobs would be created.

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