Selectmen may seek to negotiate with NCES
Will meet Friday to discuss warrant article
January 28, 2011BETHLEHEM–Voters might get to have their say—again—about whether the town should make a deal with North Country Environmental Services (NCES) to end their years' long legal battle.
The town and NCES have been fighting for years over a zoning ordinance that prevents the company from expanding outside its current 51 acre footprint. They are scheduled to go to court later this year to finally settle the matter.
Monday night the Board of Selectmen met to review the town meeting warrant in preparation for the Feb. 7 Deliberative session. Among a number of more routine warrant articles was one which attracted the ire of a number of residents: Article 16.
Article 16 on the warrant reads: "To see if the Town will vote to allow the Bethlehem Board of Selectmen to speak with NCES over issues of mutual concern."
It took a considerable amount of questions and probing by residents before the intended purpose of the article came out, as these issues were never defined.
Chairman David Lovejoy, who said he wrote and supported the warrant article at first said he didn't really know what the article meant.
"They're in town, they're taxpayers. We should be able to talk to them," Lovejoy said. "I want to be able to talk to them without being called a traitor."
Part-time resident Rita Farrell said that there was nothing prohibiting town officials from socializing with NCES representatives, as long as town business or the ongoing court battle was not discussed. In that case, however, only the lawyers from both sides should be talking.
"I'm trying to find out the motive here," Farrell said.
Farrell said she was worried the town would negotiate with Vermont base Casella Waste Systems, which owns NCES, something she believed shouldn't be done.
"They have a history of breaking promises," Farrell said, listing a number of situations throughout the northeast where Casella has run into trouble with communities.
Selectman Michael Culver said that when he first saw the warrant article, he said it looked to him like Lovejoy was going to ask voters permission to approach NCES about settling the legal issues between them.
Lovejoy said that was a possibility, to which Culver replied that the warrant article should be more specific about the matter and thought the town attorneys would cringe when the way it was worded. Currently it is too vague, he said.
Culver noted that residents were often bringing up the previous 17 votes by voters to not accept peace with the landfill. He said these are different times.
"I would support a warrant article giving the Select Board and its lawyers the right to enter into negotiations with NCES to come to some kind of solution," Culver said. "This is a different economic climate than when previous votes were held."
Former Selectman Jeanne Robillard became quite passionate and said the town shouldn't give up the 51 acres zoning ordinance, as it is the only bargaining chip it has.
"Eventually they won't be able to expand up anymore and they'll leave," Robillard.
Andrea Bryant agreed and said now is not the time to negotiate.
"We've spent a lot of money on this but this is the 9th inning. You don't put your worst pitcher out in the 9th," Bryant said. "To negotiate now would show weakness."
Resident Richard Moore was outspoken that negotiation was a good thing and said he was all for making a deal with the landfill.
"I voted for the select board, not lawyers. We're no better off than we were 11 years ago."
The warrant article as written was rejected by the board but selectmen will meet again Friday at 5:30 p.m. in the Town Building to decide on new language for Article 16 and the review the final warrant before the Deliberative Session on Feb. 7.
Other proposed articles dealt with changes to the zoning ordinance, funding capital reserve accounts, repairing the Prospect Street Bridge and asking voters whether the town will register its objection to the Northern Pass power transmission line which is going to from the Canadian border to Franklin and will pass right through Bethlehem.