29 News Stories about the J.P. Carrara and Sons quarry and the Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park in Clarendon, Vermont
Quarry blasting on hold
May 26, 2007
By SANDI SWITZER Herald Correspondent
CLARENDON There will be no blasting at the Carrara and Sons, Inc. dolomite quarry off Route 103 until the state's highest court decides an appeal of the quarry's Act 250 permit.
The Vermont Supreme Court on Wednesday granted a motion filed by a contingent of quarry neighbors to place a stay on the permit.
"In this case it means that Carrara cannot blast under the permit until the Supreme Court has made a decision," said Phoebe Mills, an attorney representing the neighbors.
Mills said the court's ruling "makes sense" given neighbors' numerous concerns about Carrara's expansion plans.
She said those issues should be addressed before quarry owners are allowed to operate under the amended Act 250 permit issued by the state's Environmental Court last year.
"We have legitimate issues and concerns that we have raised, and we would hope that blasting wouldn't be able to resume when those issues are still so unresolved. It's a positive decision for my clients," Mill said.
The Environmental Court issued an amended Act 250 permit in November that allowed Carrara to lower the depth of the quarry an additional 105 feet to 175 feet below ground level.
The permit also granted Carrara permission to increase the total explosive weight of each blast from 2500 pounds to 6500 pounds. Truck traffic under the permit could increase from 70 to 120 round trips per day.
Neighbors appealed the Environmental Court's decision to the state's highest court in December, Mills said.
The appeal encompasses water pollution concerns, wetlands and water supply implications, as well as blasting issues, she said.
Mills, who is co-counsel in the case with Stephanie Kaplan, said she is unsure when a decision might be issued.
"Briefing should be done by the end of June, so it depends on how quickly they schedule oral arguments and how quickly they make a decision," she said.
Carrara attorneys James Goss and Alan Biederman were out-of-state on Thursday, and an associate, David Cooper, declined to comment.
Court OKs Quarry Expansion Over Neighbors Opposition
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION (12.20.06)
CLARENDON A Vermont Environmental Court judge has ruled that J.P. Carrara and Sons can expand its quarry on Route 103, use more frequent and powerful explosives, dig deeper into the ground and increase truck traffic to and from the site, despite years of complaints from neighbors and concerns about the quarrys impact on groundwater.
In an Act 250 ruling late last month, Judge Thomas Durkin acknowledged that neighbors of the 59-acre dolomite quarry, many of whom live in the Carrara-owned Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park, have experienced tremendous strains due, in part, to the quarrys years of blasting.
But despite, in his words, the neighbors additional anguish upon learning that the explosives Carrara planned to use in its future operations may be many times more than any previously used, Durkin ruled that expanding the quarry will not have an unduly harmful impact upon the nearby areas and neighbors.
The judge extended the quarrys operating permit for another 15 years, and granted its owners permission to deepen it by another 105 feet, to 175 feet below ground level. He also vacated conditions imposed earlier on the quarry by the Act 250 District Commission, including a requirement that the Carraras improve living conditions in their trailer park and prevent further damage from the blasting.
An attorney for J.P. Carrara and Sons could not be reached for comment. However, the Rutland Herald reported that the quarry, which has been closed for at least a year, will re-open in the spring. Neighbors, who were clearly dismayed by the ruling, said they intend to appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court.
This just proves that the little people dont matter. Its all about big business, said quarry neighbor Tom Bizon. It seems that nobody cares about the average Vermonter.
Annette Smith is executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE), a nonprofit environmental group thats been helping residents of Whispering Pines for years in their legal fight with the Carraras. According to court documents filed in this case by VCE last spring, J.P. Carrara and Sons has a history of ignoring state environmental regulations to date back to the mid-1980s.
The court refused to consider Carraras 20 years of flouting the law and existing permit conditions and the intolerable living conditions Carrara has created for the neighbors of the quarry, including his own tenants, Smith said after the ruling. Among other problems, she added, the judge ignored credible scientific evidence that the quarry is lowering the water table in surrounding wetlands and is having a negative impact on neighbors water supplies.
As Seven Days reported in its October 25 cover story [Home Alone: Why has everyone abandoned the residents of Whispering Pines trailer park?] residents of the park have been complaining for years about problems they believe are caused by the quarrys operations, including damaged trailers, water pipes and septic lines.
Residents have also expressed concern that the blasting is doing further harm to the parks already compromised groundwater supply. In 1990, leaking underground storage tanks were discovered at a nearby auto dealership and general store; as a result, the aquifer has been contaminated with the petroleum additive MTBE. Since then, residents have been using state-funded bottled water for drinking and cooking, but they still complain of sediment and foul odors in the tap water they use for cleaning and bathing.
Five of the nine Whispering Pines tenants have been withholding their rent since August 2005 to protest the parks living conditions. Among them is Sandi Shum, a disabled former machinist from Rutland whos been living there since 1995. Shortly after the ruling, Shum said this case gave the Carraras a better understanding about the impacts their quarry operations have been having on the neighborhood for 16 years. She also expressed hope that they would do a better job of community relations. Two weeks after the ruling, Shum received an eviction notice.
According to VCE Director Smith, some funding has been secured for an appeal. She also believes an automatic stay provision should keep the quarry from operating until the Supreme Court rules on the case. But according to the Herald, the Carraras attorney disagrees.
Vermonters have been handed an alarming lesson by this decision, Smith added. This is a neighborhood in crisis, with too many serious and unexplained health problems. Allowing this quarry to expand is like pouring salt in an open wound.
Rutland Herald Letter to the editor, December 9, 2006
Judge took away our protections
My husband and I have lived near the Carrara quarry in North Clarendon since long before the quarry opened. We used to enjoy our neighborhood, but it sure isn't the same as it used to be. Carrara is buying up the houses around the quarry. We have cracks in our basement walls and windows from the blasting. We told our concerns to the judge in Environmental Court.
In his decision, Judge Thomas Durkin wrote abut the "terrible strains" the neighbors have experienced, and he said the "anguish" we felt was reasonable. So why didn't he do anything to protect us from the damage to our homes from the quarry blasting? Instead of doing anything to protect us, he is letting the Carraras blast even stronger.
We want to thank the Act 250 district commissioners, Mr. Tepper, Mr. Henry, and Mr. Nexon, for writing a permit that gave us some protections. They obviously recognized that the people who live next to the Carrara quarry do not have the money to buy seismographs to monitor the blasts, or lawyers or experts to prove when the blasting has broken things in our homes or degraded our water supplies. The permit the district commissioners wrote gave us a few tools to work with. Judge Durkin took all those protections away.
What we want to know is how a quarry that is already causing damage can be allowed to blast with a whole lot more dynamite, when the judge didn't even feel what a blast does to our homes.
We will never understand how this quarry gets to keep operating. It was located in a residential zone, against our zoning which is rural/commercial, and never should have been allowed to open in the first place. A lot of roads were paved in Rutland County this summer while the quarry was shut down. It's not like the rock is needed.
NANCY and CARROL BUFFUM
Court OKs quarry growth
December 1, 2006
By SANDI SWITZER Herald Correspondent
CLARENDON J.P. Carrara and Sons, Inc. will be able to expand operations at its Route 103 dolomite quarry, following its successful appeal of an amended Act 250 permit.
An Environmental Court decision dated Nov. 22 says the quarry's owners may set off more powerful blasts, dig deeper into the earth and increase truck traffic. It also grants the facility a 15-year permit and reversed a number of conditions placed on the operation.
In his decision, Judge Thomas Durkin said expanding quarry operations would not have an undue adverse impact on water supplies, wetlands, traffic, or the area around the quarry.
"It is a solid win for the Carrara family," company attorney James Goss said. "They have every reason to feel vindicated by the decision that was issued by the court. They got everything they wanted,"
Area residents opposed to expansion expressed disappointment.
"This just proves that the little people don't matter, it's all about big business," neighbor Thomas Bizon said. "It seems that nobody cares about the average Vermonter."
The new permit allows Carrara to increase the total explosive weight of each blasting event from 2,500 pounds to 6,500 pounds. The court issued a permit extension of 15 years, with an expiration date of 2021.
Carrara also was granted permission to lower the depth of the quarry an additional 105 feet to 175 feet below ground level. Truck traffic associated with the project was increased from 70 to 120 round trips per day.
In 2005, the District 1 Environmental Commission granted an amended Act 250 permit allowing Carrara to lower the depth of the quarry and to increase truck traffic. But it denied the company's requests for a 30-year permit extension and to increase explosive weights to 6,500 pounds per blasting event.
The district commission attached several conditions to its permit, including a requirement that Carrara complete infrastructure improvements at Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park. The park is adjacent to the quarry and owned by Carrara.
Another condition shifted the burden of proof from area homeowners to Carrara in disputes over the quarry's effects on water supplies, and its role in causing structural damage to property.
Carrara appealed the land use permit to the Environmental Court and neighbors filed a cross appeal. A six-day trial held last spring featured testimony by expert witnesses, quarry owner Robert Carrara, and several neighbors.
Some residents testified that the quarry already had damaged homes and structures, reduced water quality, threatened water supplies and harmed aesthetics. Neighbors said expanding it would present additional undue burdens.
Durkin's decision vacated some of the district commission's conditions. He did, however, order Carrara to conduct structural surveys of all properties within 2,000 feet of the quarry, provide neighbors with 48-hour notice of blasting that exceeds 2,500 pounds, and conduct routine tests of Whispering Pines water supplies.
Vermonters for a Clean Environment, which assisted park tenants during the permitting and appeal process, took issue with the court's decision to ignore evidence quarry activities had negative impact on park tenants, nearby residents and the environment.
"Vermonters have been handed an alarming lesson by this decision," VCE Executive Director Annette Smith said. "Rather than using its authority to protect public health and prevent more groundwater and property damage, the court has sent a message that quarrying comes first no matter how terrible the impacts on neighbors."
"This is a neighborhood in crisis, with too many serious and unexplained health problems," Smith said of the park. "Allowing this quarry to expand is like pouring salt into an open wound. The laws and processes that have been put in place to protect the public and the environment have totally failed these Vermonters."
Whispering Pines tenant Sandi Shum said the permit and appeal process brought to light the living conditions at the park.
"We hope the Carraras now have a better understanding about the impacts their quarry operations have been having on the neighborhood for 16 years," Shum said.
She added the quarry owner should complete infrastructure improvements at the park, relocate residents interested in moving from the site, and "do a better job of community relations." Neighbors and the park's tenant association are considering appealing the court's decision to the Vermont Supreme Court, she said.
Carrara's attorney said he doubted that Durkin's rulings would be overturned.
"The judge's decision in this case is as bullet-proof as any decision I have ever seen. So I would very much expect the Supreme Court to uphold the Environmental Court's decision," Goss said. "And there is no stay of the permit while that appeal is pending, so the bottom line is the quarry will open in the spring."
Why has everyone abandoned the residents of Whispering Pines trailer park?
by Ken Picard (10/25/06).
The hand-painted sign on the front door of Sandi Shums mobile home reads, This house protected by angels. If thats the case, heavens little helpers are flying solo on this mission.
Shum, 50, lives alone in her trailer in a wooded corner of Whispering Pines, a small mobile home park on Route 103 in North Clarendon. Shum, a former machinist in Rutland, was injured on the job in 1991 when part of a jet engine she was assembling severed her wrist. She underwent reconstructive surgery but has been permanently disabled ever since.
Shum moved into Whispering Pines in 1995 because, like many of the parks residents, it was the only housing she could afford. Her 40-year-old trailer isnt much to look at from the outside, but Shum has done her best to make the interior feel warm and homey.
Thats no easy task in a house that frequently stinks of mold, mildew and swamp gas. Several years ago, a tree limb fell through her roof. Today, the ceiling along the trailers westerly wall is a veritable roadmap of water stains. Shes had to jury-rig a brace to hold up the ceiling. Meanwhile, the backside of the trailer sags due to the soggy, uneven ground. Apparently Whispering Pines, which opened in 1974, was built on a combination of wetlands and landfill.
Shum has an afternoons worth of horror stories about other problems at the park. She has photos dating back to the winter of 1995, when icy pools of septic water formed in her backyard and beneath her trailer. In the summer of 1996, she stood up from a lawn chair and sank knee-deep into a sinkhole. In 1997, raw sewage backed up into her bathtub and ran down the hall. Even after the house was cleaned, the sewer gases venting into her trailer were so noxious, she had to move into a nearby hotel for more than a year. Only later did she learn that a perforated sewer pipe from a neighboring trailer ran right under her living room. Its been one nightmare after another, she says, choking back tears.
Other Whispering Pines residents have had similar troubles. For years, tenants have complained to anyone who would listen about electrical brownouts, water outages, unfilled potholes and sinking lots. One of their biggest concerns, they say, is their water. Oftentimes it smells foul, with sediment that clogs their toilets and ruins their washing machines. Chlorine levels fluctuate between nonexistent to overpowering.
Complicating the picture is the fact that the parks owner, J.P. Carrara and Sons, also owns a neighboring dolomite quarry, which, until last year, was routinely using explosives to extract rock. Besides the nuisances created by the blasting, some neighbors charge that all these seismic disturbances have damaged their trailers, water pipes and septic lines.
Of greater concern, residents say, is the possibility that the quarry operation is doing further harm to the parks already compromised groundwater. In 1990, leaking underground storage tanks were discovered at a nearby Honda dealership and general store, which contaminated the aquifer with the petroleum additive MTBE. Even at low concentrations, MTBE makes water smell and taste like turpentine. At higher concentrations, MTBE is suspected to cause a number of health problems, though its toxicity to humans is unknown. This in a town where, since 2003, residents have been concerned about unusually high rates of leukemia and other cancer.
Since 1990, the state of Vermont has been providing the residents of Whispering Pines free bottled water and operating its water-filtration system at an estimated cost of $1 million to date. But despite continuing problems, the state has never declared the water unsafe to drink. Residents continue to use it for cleaning, bathing and washing dishes.
If Vermont had a Lemon Law to cover mobile home parks, Whispering Pines would be a shoo-in. Were getting to the point where enough is enough, says Mike Klopchin, chairman of the Clarendon Select Board and its longest-serving member. Im a Vietnam veteran and I can tell you this: Ive seen better living conditions in poor parts of Vietnam than exist in that trailer park.
Admittedly, many of the problems at Whispering Pines are classic landlord-tenant disputes that might have been resolved years ago through litigation. However, nearly all the residents of the park are low- or moderate-income people who say they have neither the time nor the money to spend battling their wealthy landlord in court. Instead, since August 2005 most of the tenants who havent already moved that is, five of the nine remaining have been withholding their rent. Instead, theyre paying into an escrow account.
Repeated phone calls to J.P. Carrara and Sons for its side of this story were not returned. As one longtime resident of Clarendon noted, the Carraras rarely, if ever, comment for news stories about Whispering Pines.
Frustrations dont lie solely with the Carraras, according to the residents who agreed to talk to Seven Days, but also with the various state agencies they feel have abandoned them. Public records dating back to 1995, when the Carraras bought the park, show that state officials have long been aware of resident grievances and repeatedly cited the parks owner for water-quality violations. Nevertheless, the tenants contend that no one at the state level has ever taken a thorough and comprehensive look at their problems and tried to find a long-lasting solution.
All of which raises some troubling questions: In a state that touts its reputation for strict environmental and consumer-protection laws, how could such serious problems be allowed to fester for so long? What does it say about Vermonts commitment to affordable housing when one of its most affordable housing options mobile home parks seem to lack effective governmental oversight and enforcement to keep them safe and habitable? In short, whos supposed to be looking out for the residents of Whispering Pines?
Unfortunately, its much easier to point fingers than to find satisfactory answers. Even the small number of tenants who still live in Whispering Pines cant agree on the best solution for everyone involved. Some say they want the state to declare the park uninhabitable, shut it down and pay to move its residents elsewhere. Others say theyre perfectly content with the park the way it is. Still others are willing to stay put, as long as the Carraras agree to fix maintenance problems as soon as they arise. Because of their differences, relations among the residents are sometimes as strained as those between the tenants and their landlord.
One resident who doesnt want to leave is Martha Lajoie. The 69-year-old has lived in Whispering Pines longer than anyone. She runs a business-management company out of her home and also cares for her 2-year-old great-grandson, of whom she has custody. Lajoie is the archetypal sweet old lady friendly, polite, impeccably dressed and seemingly averse to complaining about anything to anyone. As she puts it, Im not the coffee-klatch type. I kind of stick to myself.
Lajoie says she cant afford the $30,000 it would cost to move her 32-year-old trailer assuming it could be moved at all. Nevertheless, shes been withholding her rent in solidarity with her neighbors. I dont want to feel like Im deserting the ship, she says. At this point, I just dont know what to do.
Lajoie says she joined the recent rent boycott because shed endured very serious problems with her septic system that went unaddressed for far too long. Back in the 1970s, she and her now-deceased husband, Richard, were among a group of residents who withheld rent from the previous owner due to ongoing sewer problems. The tenants eventually won a court case against that landlord, though he later skipped the country.
Several years ago, Lajoie had raw sewage back up into her trailer and destroy her carpet, which she paid to replace. A plumber told her the troubles were due to the landlords faulty septic system, not her plumbing. Lajoie sent the Carraras a certified letter to that effect, which, she claims, they never answered. For more than a year, Lajoie couldnt flush solids down her toilet and had to remove them each day with a bucket and pail.
Theres always been problems here, says Lajoie. They say that the blasting doesnt do it, but I dont think Im buying that. When this place goes shake, rattle and roll, dont tell me the pipes underground arent shaking, rattling and rolling with it.
Eventually, the Carraras fixed Lajoies pipes. Today, she says her only outstanding issue with the landlord is the quality of her water a test done several weeks ago found coliform bacteria in her house. It came as a something of a surprise, since the parks water was found to be malfunctioning back in August. As of last week, residents said the chlorine problem still hadnt been fixed.
Everybody here has gone through hot water tanks because of the hard water. I can live with that, Lajoie says. What I cant live with is not knowing whether I should be bathing my babies in this water.
Lajoies water issue is hardly an isolated incident. Records from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation show that between 1995 and 2004, the Water Supply Division documented at least 37 water-quality violations at Whispering Pines. They ranged from failures to file monthly reports to not notifying the residents that they needed to boil their water due to dangerous bacteria levels. Nevertheless, the DEC has never imposed tough fines on the Carraras or referred this case to the attorney generals office for further legal action.
Its unlikely the DEC ever will. Thats because, as of December 2004, there were fewer than 10 hook-ups, or 25 residents, living in the park. As a result, Whispering Pines now falls below the DECs regulatory threshold and has been de-listed as a public water system. In effect, because two residents moved out, the state can no longer guarantee the safety of the water.
Tim Raymond is the water systems manager for the DECs Water Supply Division. Raymond is familiar with residents concerns at Whispering Pines; hes dealt with them for years and says hes not surprised the place still has operational difficulties.
Raymond says its not typical for a mobile home park to rack up that many water-quality violations, even over an eight-year period. However, he says that most of the problems didnt threaten the health of residents.
From my perspective, you need to make a distinction between a public-health risk meaning the water youre receiving cant be utilized because its unsafe and the operational complications of the system that are truly driving you crazy, he says. Basically, the problems in Whispering Pines are due to the water equipment and the people who operate it, he explains, not problems with the water supply itself.
Raymond also points out that the state is still involved, to an extent. It operates the parks air stripper, the water-filtration system that removes MTBE from the water before it reaches the residents. That equipment is paid for and maintained by the states Petroleum Cleanup Fund. Whispering Pines, Raymond asserts, has seen significant improvements in its water quality as a result of the DECs involvement.
Even though the state may be disappointing to some people, the state is still active there and still operating that local water system, he adds. Because its the states treatment system, the state is going to make sure that treatment system is reliable and safe.
As for the erratic chlorine levels, Raymond says thats no longer the states job to oversee. That responsibility, he says, now belongs to the parks owner J.P. Carrara and Sons.
I think most of the states officials are asses, Kevin Callahan says with the bluntness of someone whos spent years trying to get government officials to pay attention to his concerns.
Callahans frustration is understandable. In 1998, he and his wife Carol, then both 25, moved into Whispering Pines. The following year, they bought a brand-new mobile home. Carol works in the elementary school cafeteria in Clarendon; Kevin is currently receiving Workers Compensation due to an injury he suffered working at a local propane company. The couple shares a mobile home with their two children.
Like other park residents, the Callahans have had their share of troubles with the water and wastewater. During their first summer in Whispering Pines, they went days without water when the parks well ran dry. Since then, theyve had water that smells like a swamp; other days the chlorine level is strong enough to bleach their clothes. Then, in 2000, the familys septic problems began in earnest.
I could flush my toilet and have a geyser in my front yard, Kevin Callahan recalls. After repeated complaints to the landlord went unattended video of their septic woes even made the local TV news in 2003 Callahan says he called the state, which sent a truck to his home to inspect the problem.
This guy came out and stuck a stick in it, smelled it and said, Yup, thats the sewer, Callahan recalls. Then, he and his buddy got back in the truck, drove away and we never heard from them again.
Far more disconcerting to the Callahans have been their health problems, which they fear may be due to the parks persistent problems. These include asthma, rashes, cysts, endometriosis and other unexplained illnesses.
Its funny, Carol Callahan says. If you leave here for a couple of days, you feel fantastic. And then when you come back, its kind of like having a cold, but at the same time its like youre depressed.
Ironically, she doesnt blame the Carraras entirely for their troubles. Im not saying I agree with everything the landlord has done, Carol Callahan says. But I dont think its fair to always put the fault on him.
My opinion? I think the state should close this park, she adds. Its old, its outlived its life, youve got contamination on one side and a quarry on the other side. No matter what that man [Carrara] does, its always going to have problems.
The Callahans situation improved significantly when Clarendon Public Health Officer Roxanne Phelps got involved. Appointed to her post in 2003, Phelps became interested in Whispering Pines after hearing reports that children in the park were suffering from respiratory problems such as lung infections, asthma and persistent colds. In August 2005, Phelps and fellow health officer Chuck Davis inspected the park and identified 12 health and safety violations, some of which Phelps called life-threatening.
Within 48 hours, Phelps arranged a meeting with the Carraras, the tenants and the DEC to get those problems fixed. At one point during the meeting, the Carraras attorney insisted that the parks water was safe. So Phelps handed him a glass of water from the Callahans tap and asked him to drink it. He refused. For the residents of Whispering Pines, it was a scene right out of the movie Erin Brockovich.
That said, theres only so much that a part-time town health officer can do on a limited budget. Those familiar with the case say its going to take a lot more firepower to get the residents problems resolved.
Just find me a brick wall and Ill bang my head against it until the blood comes out, and maybe somebody will pay attention. Thats how these people feel, says Annette Smith of the nonprofit group Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE). I dont know what the answer is, but clearly, its not state government.
Smith is an environmental activist whos been working with the tenants of Whispering Pines since 2003. Her involvement with this case is extensive; most recently, shes been helping them fight an Act 250 permit request by J.P. Carrara and Sons to deepen their quarry by another 105 feet.
The quarry, Smith contends, is an immensely complicating factor in the problems plaguing the park. According to court papers filed by VCE, J.P. Carrara and Sons has a history of ignoring state environmental regulations that dates back to the mid-1980s. Back then, the proposed quarry site was an important deer habitat that was illegally clear-cut, in violation of Act 250, VCE contends. Vermont Fish and Wildlife opposed the quarrys land-use permit, but it was eventually granted after the company agreed to set aside another parcel of deer habitat eight miles away.
As early as 1994 Smith says that neighbors suspected the quarrys blasting was causing damage to the aquifer that year, one neighbors well ran dry and potentially making the MTBE contamination worse. Those problems persist to this day, Smith says though its worth noting that the quarry has not been operating for the last year due in part to the neighbors concerns.
Then why in the course of Act 250 hearings last spring would an attorney for the Agency of Natural Resources ask to throw out of evidence the entire history of water-supply violations by J.P. Carrara and Sons? His argument: Those were landlord-tenant matters that had nothing to do with the pending permit request.
The reality is, youve got a contaminated aquifer, youve got a clear interconnection between the quarry and the aquifer, you dont know where the MTBE is except there could be pockets of it spread all around, Smith says, and the state has no problem with this.
In fact, residents learned this May that the air stripper, which is supposed to protect them from MTBE exposure, hadnt been working properly since January. In Smiths view, that means the residents were potentially exposed to dangerous levels of MTBE for at least four months.
Not so, says Bob Haslam, environmental analyst with the DECs Waste Management Division. As Haslam explains, the MTBE overwhelmed the system temporarily and a tiny amount got through. . . Every now and then you get these anomalous spikes. Its just the nature of the beast.
Haslam insists the residents were never at any risk. As he puts it, This treatment system is very, very reliable. Its a well-established technology.
Not according to Stan Alpert, the New York City attorney who represents VCE pro bono on the Carraras Act 250 case. Alpert is a former federal prosecutor whos sued the oil industry for MTBE contamination in other states. According to him, the technology currently being used to protect the residents of Whispering Pines is woefully inadequate to protect their health. In his opinion, Something is seriously wrong in the state of Vermont if regulators are allowing people to drink and bathe in water that looks and smells like that.
After Clarendon spent more than $5000 on a public health officer to work on Whispering Pines, and with tenants still not paying their rent to the Carraras, the town asked Vermonts attorney general to intervene.
Assistant Attorney General Wendy Morgan is handling the case. After conversations with the residents, the Carraras attorney and the various state agencies, Morgan determined that the current problems at Whispering Pines dont rise to the level of violations that would cause us to bring a court action or close the park.
Morgan explains that she only looked at current conditions in the park, not past complaints or violations. Although she recognizes that landlord-tenant issues still need to be resolved, its her belief that there are none outstanding that compromise public safety or habitability . As such, she says, the residents no longer have reason to withhold their rent.
The residents are frustrated, and I dont blame anybody for being frustrated, she says. The question for us is, what are we trying to achieve here? If what were trying to achieve is safe and habitable housing for low- and moderate-income people, then what happened in the past shouldnt be ignored, but its not going to cause us to bring an action.
Its unclear how the troubles at Whispering Pines will ever be resolved. The Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity has a mobile home advocacy project, but it cannot bring legal action, only advise tenants of their rights.
The Rutland County Community Land Trust has looked into creating another mobile home park in the area to accommodate Whispering Pines residents. However, two other local parks recently closed, giving those residents first priority. Community Development Block Grants sometimes can be used to help relocate trailer park residents. But an application filed for Whispering Pines was denied, since the parks owner has never filed a notice for closure. As Smith puts it, This case brings you head-on into the real problem of low-income housing in Vermont.
These days, she isnt optimistic. If the quarry were closed, if a new and safe water supply were found and if the current infrastructure problems were fixed, perhaps Whispering Pines could be saved. But thats a lot of ifs, Smith says, and, based on the Carraras track record, shes not holding her breath.
Meanwhile, a ruling on the Act 250 permit request to expand the quarry is expected any day. If its approved, the quarry will likely resume blasting as soon as possible. Sandi Shum says shes hoping her trailer makes it through the winter.
State to mobile home owners: Work it out with your landlord
September 22, 2006
By SANDI SWITZER Herald Correspondent
CLARENDON Living conditions that have generated complaints from residents of the Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park can be categorized as landlord and tenant issues that do not rise to the level of state violations.
That was the message delivered by state officials to park residents this week during a two-hour meeting at the Clarendon Town Hall.
"Most of the issues in the park are not habitability violations," Wendy Morgan said.
Morgan, public protection chief for the state attorney general's office, and Robert Haslam, an environmental analyst with the Agency of Natural Resource's Waste Management division, addressed tenant complaints that ranged from water quality and availability to potholes in the access road.
The park is owned by J.P. Carrara and Sons, Inc. It has nine mobile homes and is located adjacent to the company's stone quarry off Route 103. Some tenants have been withholding rent for more than a year, citing their concerns about water, the septic system and other issues.
"Some of your issues with the Carraras don't involve the state," Morgan explained.
She urged residents to make an attempt to work out their differences with Robert and Christine Carrara, who also attended the town hall meeting. She said tenants and the Carraras "may have to battle it out on other fronts" if they cannot come to a resolution.
State and town officials met with individual park tenants before the meeting, which was held Monday, to review specific concerns.
Morgan said the state would work with the Carraras to resolve issues related to three on-site power poles. She said the access road, which residents said contained potholes, "looked fine to me today."
Haslam told tenants the state would seek bids from area businesses to monitor park water supplies, including chlorine levels. One tenant, Pat Malette, said no chlorine was added to the water supply last month.
The state has been involved with Whispering Pines since underground fuel storage tanks leaked contaminants, including the gasoline additive MTBE, into local water supplies in the early 1990s.
A device known as an airstripper, installed by the state to treat park water, has reduced MTBEs to "below detectable levels," according to Haslam.
"It's cleaned up dramatically, but it's still there," he told tenants. "We're going to have MTBE in that water for a long time."
The state has been supplying tenants with bottled water since the leaks were discovered.
Tenants also complained that sediment in the water clogged toilets, faucets, hot water tanks, and other appliances. Several residents indicated they were forced to replace those items at their own expense.
One tenant, Norm Flanders, suggested the entire distribution system needed to be "flushed" to prevent build-up and increase water pressure.
"It's been done at my house twice, and I'm sick of paying for it," Flanders said.
Haslam said the airstripper may be exacerbating problems with the hardness of the mobile home park's water. But he stopped short of accepting responsibility on behalf of the state for the park's water quantity issues.
The state may consider installing a water softener or a sediment filter, among other options, Haslam said.
While a number of residents voiced concerns regarding park living conditions, one tenant spoke in support of the landlord.
Larry Hale said tenants "were given a lot" for their $185 monthly lot rents, including snow plowing and rubbish removal.
"I think the Carraras have done the best they can," Hale said.
Whispering Pines dispute drags on
August 22, 2006
By SANDI SWITZER Herald Correspondent
CLARENDON Some Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park tenants want the town to investigate ongoing problems at the Route 103 facility.
Two park residents met with the Clarendon Select Board last week to request increased local involvement regarding septic, water and other concerns.
Sandy Shum and Carol Callahan told board members that many of the issues outlined by tenants at public hearings last year remained unresolved despite state involvement.
The two women complained of surfacing sewage, sinkholes, water quality and quantity issues, foul odors and trees in need of removal.
Whispering Pines is owned by J.P. Carrara and Sons Inc. Six of the nine tenants have been withholding rent for the past 12 months due to habitability issues.
The town asked Attorney General William Sorrell's office to investigate tenants' concerns in a letter dated Jan. 4 and signed by health officer Roxanne Phelps and Select Board Chairman Michael Klopchin.
At the time, local officials calculated the town had spent about $5,000 in health enforcement, mostly related to Whispering Pines. Callahan told board members recently the state was "passing the buck" on many of these issues and urged the town to become more involved.
Shum said effluent was clearly visible in her backyard a week ago and the town's sewage officer, R. Brownson Spencer, had visited the site, but had not provided her with a copy of his report.
Wendy Morgan, public protection chief for the state attorney general's office, said Aug. 15 her office became involved several months ago.
"The state spent quite a bit of time trying to sort out what the various issues were," she said. "We sent letters to residents and the park owner in both February and April outlining the issues and who we felt should be responsible for various aspects of it.
"Some of the things have been done, but not all of the things have been done. So I'm aware that there continue to be issues."
Morgan said the landlord and tenants ought to work together to resolve some of those concerns.
Morgan indicated she had spoken with a Carrara attorney earlier in the day and suggested meeting with tenants on an individual basis to hear specific concerns.
Also at Monday's Select Board meeting, Shum offered officials a copy of a letter sent to tenants advising them to pay all rent withheld during the past year.
"If payment is not received by Aug. 19, 2006, further action will be taken," according to the letter. The document was written on J.P. Carrara and Sons, Inc. letterhead, but did not include a name or signature.
Robert Carrara did not return a telephone message seeking comment on park issues.
He said in an interview earlier this year a number of infrastructure improvements related to park water and sewer lines had been completed. He noted at the time a number of trees and limbs deemed hazardous had been removed.
Carrara also indicated the state's Solid Waste Division conducted water analysis tests at Whispering Pines last year and that the "water is excellent."
Board members agreed to direct the town's health officers, Charles Davis and Phelps, to investigate ongoing issues and file a report with the state. Officials further agreed to contact the town's sewage officer to request a copy of his report.
Rutland Herald Commentary
Beware blasting next to high school
August 10, 2006
Residents of Chester, Andover and Cavendish who send their children to Green Mountain Union High School should be paying special attention to the aggregate quarrying operation being proposed by O'Neil Sand & Gravel, LLC.
Extraction of sand and gravel took place near the high school for several years, but Chester has seen nothing like what O'Neil is now proposing in this residential neighborhood. O'Neil has hired experts who have submitted plans to the Planning Commission and zoning board that indicate there will be no significant impacts to the neighborhood from the expansion of the mining operation to include drilling, blasting and crushing of rock, called aggregate.
However, the School Board and parents can learn from the experience of the neighbors of the J.P. Carrara & Sons Inc. aggregate quarry in Clarendon, which has been operating for 18 years. That quarry, too, was proposed in a residential zone and has been the source of repeated litigation throughout the quarry's operation.
Nobody knows better than the people living next to the Carrara quarry just how serious the impacts from a crushed rock quarry are. Consider just the blasting. Carrara began blasting above ground in 1990, and almost immediately the neighbors filed a petition to revoke the Carrara's Act 250 permit because of noise, fly-rock, and violation of a finding of fact in the permit that said that blasting at the quarry would have no impacts beyond 200 feet.
The Environmental Board found that there were impacts beyond 200 feet, and Carrara had to reapply to the district commission to get that finding removed from their permit. The expert witness who testified that the Carrara quarry would not have any impacts beyond 200 feet is the same expert that O'Neil has hired for its Chester quarry proposal. The expert witness's testimony was shown to be not credible.
Now that same witness is telling the Chester Planning Commission and zoning board that drilling, blasting and crushing rock 1,400 feet from the high school will not cause any impacts. O'Neil proposes to use 5,600 to 11,000 pounds of explosives with 120 pounds per delay in their blasting loads, which is far more than Carrara. In comparison, the J.P. Carrara & Sons quarry is permitted to blast 2,500 pounds with 116 ppd.
It is inconceivable that GMUHS and its neighbors will not experience the same sorts of impacts experienced by the Carrara quarry neighbors, and probably worse due to O'Neil using even larger loads of explosives. These neighbors testified in Environmental Court in May that when a blast goes off, they are frightened; there is a loud noise; it is like being in an earthquake or like fighter jets flying over; it is shocking; they have to hold onto something if they are in the shower; and the blasts are felt quite strongly between 1,200 and 1,900 feet away. They allege that damage has been caused to the infrastructure at the neighboring mobile home park, that one mobile home came apart after blasting, that there are cracks in basement walls and windows of homes. Some neighbors report that computers are affected by the blasting. Complaints about the Carrara quarry operations are too numerous to recount here.
Given the major public investment in the regional school, it seems unwise for the town of Chester to rely solely on the testimony of O'Neil's paid expert for assurances that the school and neighbors will not be seriously affected by the blasting so nearby. At the very least, the Select Board and School Board should hire an independent consultant to evaluate the proposal on behalf of the town and the school.
Quarry blasting at the proposed explosive weights and next to a school is highly questionable. Will announcements be made over the intercom system at the school when a blast is about to go off? Will all computers have to be turned off to avoid damage? Won't the blasting be shocking to the students and disrupt their work? Who will be responsible when allegations are made that blasting has caused damage at the school? It is extremely hard to prove that damage was caused by blasting.
Just ask the Carrara quarry's neighbors. They know the drill. Quarry experts say that blasting never causes any damage. Carrara's expert witness on structural damage testified in Environmental Court that any problems in the neighborhood were caused by wind. Perhaps GMUHS should invest in meteorological monitoring so that they can defend against such ludicrous claims when the eventual damage happens from quarrying and it is up to the high school to prove that the quarry caused the damage.
This proposal may be a winner for O'Neil, but it is a loser for the neighborhood, the Chester community, and the students whose education will be disrupted. At its meeting on Aug. 14, Chester's zoning board would be wise to reconsider its permission to grant a permit to blast and drill in a residential zone next to the regional high school. If it does not, GMUHS and the community are in for a long, expensive fight that could last decades. The Carrara quarry neighbors can tell you all about it.
Annette Smith of Danby is executive director Vermonters for a Clean Environment.
Judge to decide Clarendon quarry case
May 13, 2006
By SANDI SWITZER Herald Correspondent
A six-day trial that pitted a Clarendon quarry owner against nearby neighbors concluded recently with testimony from residents opposed to quarry expansion plans.
Several neighbors claimed during the final days of an Environmental Court appeal hearing regarding J.P. Carrara and Sons' amended Act 250 permit that quarry activities had affected water supplies and caused structural damage to homes.
Carrara is seeking permission to lower the depth of the Route 103 quarry another 105 feet below its 75-foot level. Other permit amendment requests included increasing the total explosive weight per quarry blast from 2,500 pounds to 6,500 pounds.
The company appealed its amended Act 250 permit to Environmental Court, and neighbors filed a cross-appeal.
The trial concluded recently following two days of testimony in Rutland and one day of testimony in Bennington. Three days of testimony from Carrara's expert witnesses took place in Rutland last month.
Carrara was represented by attorneys Alan Biederman and James Goss. Neighbors were represented by Stanley Alpert, a former federal prosecutor from New York City, and Phoebe Mills.
Neighbors claimed blasting and other quarry activities rattled homes, created sediment in water supplies, and had an adverse impact on aesthetics.
Quarry Lane resident Joseph Alexander indicated he "thought a car hit our home" following one quarry blast. He said the structure's walls "shook" and "dishes rattled in the cupboards."
"The last two years, the blasts have been much stronger than they ever have been," Alexander said.
Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park resident Sandra Shum has lived near the quarry for over a decade. She said she had been present at her home on many occasions during blast events.
Shum said she had experienced "a lot of vibration in the ground" and heard "a loud boom" on one occasion. Shum added cans had fallen out of cupboards and hanging plants swayed.
Water samples collected from Shum's bathroom sink and washing machine were presented to the court. She testified the water "appears to be brown" and "appears to have stones and grit in it."
Alpert argued to the court the samples demonstrated the quality of water entering Shum's home. He said a previous Carrara witness had admitted blasting "shakes up sediment in the aquifer."
"You can then infer that blasting is having an impact on water quality," the attorney argued.
Another Whispering Pines tenant, Carol Callahan, said she had lived at the park since 1997 and had been present at the park during blasting.
"It's a feeling of some awful rumbling coming up from the ground," she testified. Callahan said the windows vibrated, pots and pans fell out of cupboards, and gas tanks "clinked causing a leak."
Following a quarry blast in 2000, Callahan indicated she heard a loud "crack" then witnessed a seam split open on one wall of her mobile home.
A couple of East Clarendon Road residents, David Bride and Nancy Buffum, also testified the blasting events had caused structural damage to their respective homes.
During rebuttal, Carrara witness, architect Maximillian Farrow, said he had visited both the Bride and Buffum homes as well as Whispering Pines. He said a number of factors may have contributed to structural damage including weather, age of homes, and even manufacturers' defects in the case of the mobile homes.
"Any number of little events could have been the straw that breaks the camel's back, and what the straw is, is totally unimportant," he said.
When asked if quarry blasts had harmed Callahan's home, Farrow responded, "I don't think so at all, not in any way, shape or form."
Another Carrara witness, geologist Brian Fowler, testified during rebuttal that blast events would not harm nearby structures if quarry owners adhered to blast plans. He noted, however, the "subjective reaction" to a blast could produce a "natural fear or apprehension of what exactly is this doing."
Judge Thomas Durkin announced at the conclusion of the trial that both sides would have until June 2 to file supplemental proposed findings with recommendations.
Court hears quarry expansion debate
April 13, 2006
By SANDI SWITZER Herald Correspondent
Neighbors fighting expansion plans at a Clarendon dolomite quarry barely scratched the surface of their case this week during three days of testimony in Environmental Court.
The trial will continue next month for up to three additional days as attorneys for neighbors of the J.P. Carrara and Sons, Inc. quarry present evidence regarding the impact on area water supplies, traffic, wetlands and more should the Route 103 facility expand operations.
Carrara expert witnesses testified for two-and-a-half days during the trial, while neighbors started their case on the afternoon of the third day.
Judge Thomas Durkin announced Thursday testimony would continue in May, and he indicated up to three additional days could be scheduled.
Attorneys Alan Biederman and James Goss filed an appeal with the court on Carrara's behalf regarding an amended Act 250 permit issued last year. Carrara wants to deepen the quarry floor 105 feet below its current 75-foot level and to increase total explosive weight per blast.
Neighbors represented by attorneys Stanley Alpert, a former federal prosecutor from New York City, and Phoebe Mills filed a cross-appeal of the same permit.
On Wednesday, Carrara witness, geologist Brian Fowler, testified a proposal to increase quarry blasts from 2500 pounds to 6500 pounds per event would not cause structural harm or impact water supplies in the area surrounding the quarry.
The witness said blast events could be reduced by as much as 50 percent if pounds per blast were increased. He explained blasts were designed to increase quarry productivity and minimize fugitive energy.
Alpert questioned Fowler on cross-examination regarding the "annoyance factor" of blasting events for residents near the facility. "I won't sit here and tell you I can create a blast that no one is aware of," the witness said.
Fowler acknowledged he had not met with neighbors to listen to their concerns about quarry activities. "I haven't personally spoken to any of them in the last two years," he said.
He disagreed that a blast event had caused structural damage to a home located at the adjacent Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park also owned by Carrara. He did admit, however, he had heard reports air concussions from blasts had rattled houses in the area and even shaken items off shelves.
"I've heard it does," Fowler said.
State wetlands coordinator Alan Quackenbush, a witness called by the Agency of Natural Resources, testified quarry activities had not reduced the size of area wetlands or caused any changes to vegetation.
He indicated deepening the quarry would not likely have an adverse impact on wetland functions. Under cross-examination, Quackenbush agreed there had been a decline in groundwater levels in the area over a number of years, but he attributed it to decreased precipitation not quarry dewatering activities.
The wetland coordinator further acknowledged the state seldom testified in court cases, and he had done so under advice of his attorney.
Another state witness, hydro-geologist Scott Stewart, testified deepening the quarry floor would not likely impact area water supplies even those contaminated years ago by leaking underground gasoline storage tanks.
He indicated under cross-examination by Mills that state monitoring of the Whispering Pines well which had been contaminated by the nearby gas leaks had decreased since it no longer met community supply standards.
Stewart testified quarry blasting would not likely damage area wells or well casings. "I'm not a blasting expert, but I'd say that's unlikely."
State witness Robert Haslam, an environmental analyst with ANR's waste management division, said he had been involved with remediation efforts at Whispering Pines since the park's water supply had been contaminated in 1990.
"The dewatering and deepening of the quarry will not have a significant impact on remediation efforts," he said.
Haslam acknowledged to Alpert that a hydro-geological connection existed in the bedrock throughout the quarry and park region. He said doubling dewatering efforts at the quarry if expansion plans proceed could pull water from all directions even the contamination site.
Neighbors' expert witness, Dr. Ellen Moyer, an environmental engineer, said pump tests conducted by Carrara over three days in 2004 to determine potential quarry dewatering effects on nearby wells and aquifers were inadequate.
She said more accurate date could have been collected if tests were conducted for a longer period of time and more test sites had been created.
Moyer confirmed the contaminant MTBE a gasoline additive had been detected in area bedrock and the Whispering Pines well. She told Biederman under cross-examination groundwater flowed from the gasoline spill site to the park well and the well was hydro-geologically connected to the quarry.
"If A connects B, and B connects C, then A connects C," she said.
Under questioning by the judge, Moyer said MTBE contaminants had not been detected at the quarry. She said no wells existed between Whispering Pines and the quarry to monitor MTBE impact in that direction.
The Environmental Court hearing is expected to continue with additional neighbors' witnesses on May 1.
Hearing focuses on quarry expansion plans
April 6, 2006
By SANDI SWITZER Herald Correspondent
A former federal prosecutor from New York City has taken up the case of a group of neighbors fighting expansion plans at a Clarendon dolomite quarry owned by J.P. Carrara and Sons Inc.
Attorney Stanley Alpert has agreed to represent neighbors pro bono in the case being heard this week in Environmental Court in Rutland. Alpert and Attorney Phoebe Mills have filed a cross appeal on behalf of neighbors regarding an amended Act 250 permit issued for the Route 103 quarry.
Attorneys James Goss and Alan Biederman have filed an appeal on Carrara's behalf that focusing on several land use permit matters.
Six hours of testimony on Monday focused largely on water-related issues at the quarry and surrounding neighborhood. An expert witness hired by Carrara, hydrologist Craig Heindel, testified that expansion plans would not have an adverse impact on water supplies.
Heindel indicated there could be a "minor impact" on the quantity of water in neighbors' wells as a result of plans to deepen the floor of the quarry another 105 feet below its current 75-foot level.
There could be a minor and insignificant impact on several wells," he said, adding that area wells including a water supply system at the adjacent Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park also owned by Carrara produced "more than enough yield to serve their current uses."
The hydrologist said the quality of water supplies would not be adversely affected as a result of quarry activities.
On cross-examination, Alpert presented Heindel with several jars of water extracted from a number of Whispering Pines homes. The park's well is located 1,500 feet from the quarry.
The attorney asked the witness whether the samples were potable.
"They're probably not. I see sediment in the samples," Heindel said. Physical particles were present in the supplies and characterized one sample as "the color of very weak ice tea," he said.
He suggested sediment likely was due to a remediation system installed at the park several years ago by the state to address water contamination from nearby leaking underground gasoline storage tanks.
Heindel was asked to remove jar lids in order to smell the samples in an effort to learn whether odors were present. After doing so, the witness said he had noticed "a slightly musty odor is how I'd characterize it."
Alpert questioned whether Heindel could detect odors of MTBE a gasoline additive in the samples. The witness said he did not.
The attorney asked Heindel whether the state's remediation effort, an air stripper, was the best technology available to prevent MTBE from leaching into water supplies.
"Not anymore," he said. Heindel agreed carbon filtration would be more effective.
Biederman later elicited an assertion from Heindel that MTBE levels would not increase in the park well as a result of quarry activities.
"It's not likely the deepening of the quarry would cause significant change in the Whispering Pines' well or neighboring wells," the hydrologist said.
A traffic expert hired by Carrara testified late in the day routes 103 and 7 were capable of sustaining increased truck traffic as a result of quarry expansion plans.
The appeal hearing was expected to continue this week.
Carrara was expected to put additional expert witnesses including geologist Brian Fowler on the stand.
Quarry neighbors will follow with testimony from an expert on MTBE contamination, along with the testimony from a former supervisor of Mining, Safety and Health Administration from Albany.
Several park residents and area citizens likely will testify as well.
HEALTH & FITNESS
Clarendon Health Officer Roxanne Phelps goes to bat for her town
IMAGE: VYTO STARINSKAS
by Ken Picard (01/18/06).
Roxanne Phelps laughs when people compare her to Erin Brockovich, though she's flattered by the comparison. "I get that a lot," admits the 39-year-old public health officer for the town of Clarendon. Actually, the similarities are remarkable -- even if Phelps hasn't been the subject of a movie starring Julia Roberts. Brockovich is the now-famous legal crusader who helped the cancer-plagued residents of Hinckley, California, win the largest-ever class-action settlement against a U.S. corporation.
Like her, Phelps is a straight-talking single mother with no prior education or experience in public health or environmental law. She's holding down five jobs, attending college part-time and raising five children ages 3 to 19, including a cousin's 4-year-old she just took in. She coaches basketball six days a week and chairs the local recreation department. And Phelps still finds the time and energy to talk to local residents at all hours of the day and night about their health troubles.
Phelps has another thing in common with Brockovich: When it comes to protecting the wellbeing of people in her community, many of whom are children and low-income residents, she doesn't give up.
"I have heart," she says. "I care for people. But I never want to come across what [Brockovich] came across as far as illnesses." That's a very real concern in a community that's been plagued by unexplained illnesses and deaths, including the revelation in 2003 that the Vermont Department of Health was investigating a possible cancer cluster in the area.
Phelps first earned her reputation as a tireless champion of public health with her efforts to improve the living conditions in the Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park in North Clarendon. For the last 20 years, this modest trailer park with 23 residents has been beset by persistent health and safety issues: smelly and sediment-laden tap water, malfunctioning septic systems, foul gases permeating the homes, dangerous tree limbs and exposed electrical wires, to name a few.
Many of these problems haven't escaped the notice of state and local officials, the media or J.P. Carrara and Sons, Inc., who own the park. In 1990, underground petroleum tanks nearby were discovered to be leaking and contaminating the aquifer with benzene and MTBE, a carcinogenic fuel additive. Since then, the state has been providing the residents with free bottled water, though it's never declared the water supply unsafe to drink.
In fact, public records dating to the mid-1990s show that the state has long been aware of problems in the area, many of which residents blame on a neighboring rock quarry, which is also owned by the Carrara family. But despite years of residents' complaints and numerous reports in the media, the state did little, if anything, to correct these problems.
That is, until Phelps arrived on the scene. Her interest in the park was first piqued in 2003, shortly after the Clarendon Selectboard appointed her as town health officer. Phelps says she began hearing reports of children in the park having respiratory problems such as lung infections, asthma and persistent colds. The stories hit home for Phelps, who grew up in the area and whose own 15-year-old daughter suffers from serious allergies and two pulmonary diseases, for which she receives weekly shots.
Then, about a year ago, Phelps was contacted by Carol and Kevin Callahan, who have lived in Whispering Pines with their two children for eight years. Six months after they moved in, the family began experiencing problems with their water and septic systems, including raw sewage surfacing in their front yard and backing up into their house. Like other residents of the park, the Callahans have had constant problems with foul odors, low water pressure and sediment in their water, which wreaks havoc on their washing machine and hot water tank.
According to Carol Callahan, it wasn't until Phelps got involved that conditions in the park began to improve. In August, she and fellow health officer Chuck Davis inspected the park and identified 12 health and safety violations, some of which Phelps describes as "life-threatening." Within 48 hours, she had arranged a meeting with the park's owners, the tenants and the Department of Environmental Conservation to get the problems fixed.
During that meeting, residents were again told that their water was safe to drink. Unconvinced, Phelps handed the Carraras' attorney a glass of water that had been poured from the Callahans' tap, and asked him to drink it. He refused. "I said, 'Then what makes you think these people should drink it?'" Phelps recalls. To the residents of Whispering Pines who have been complaining for years about water quality, it was like a scene right out of the film Erin Brockovich.
"For all of us in the park, she's been a godsend," Callahan says. "For whatever reason, she has been the only person in the state of Vermont that can actually get anything done."
Annette Smith agrees. As founder of the grassroots environmental group Vermonters for a Clean Environment, Smith has been closely following the decades-long saga of Whispering Pines. In fact, when Seven Days reached Smith by phone, she was reviewing the Carrara quarry case files -- the company has applied for a permit to deepen the rock quarry by another 105 feet. According to Smith, documents from the Agency of Natural Resources from 1994 show that ANR experts suspected Whispering Pines' water problems might be due to the neighboring quarry's operations.
"This case is a great example of the failure of the regulatory system from beginning to end," says Smith. "The bright light in this whole thing has been Roxanne Phelps. I work with communities throughout Vermont, and I have never seen a health officer step up to the plate the way Roxanne has and actually bring about change."
Tim Ashe, a Burlington City Councilor who works with the Mobile Home Project of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, shares Smith's assessment. "To put it plainly, we need more Roxanne Phelpses in this state," he says. "People who take the law for what it is, as a set of protections for residents to ensure they have an acceptable standard of living. It's pretty inspirational."
Town health officers in Vermont actually have a significant amount of power. They can write violations that result in stiff fines, condemn unsafe buildings, and even order search warrants. However, most health officers rarely exercise that authority.
Phelps is an exception. In her short tenure on the job, she's obtained a search warrant to identify an illegal septic system that may have been contaminating a Clarendon stream. She's condemned a rental property and helped the woman living there find new housing. Last summer, when Vermont was experiencing high winds and some residents of Whispering Pines were worried about dangerous overhanging tree limbs -- one pierced the roof of a mobile home -- Phelps told the Carraras to bring in arborists to cut them down.
How has a part-time health officer gotten the job done when others in the past could not? "I wouldn't let up until I got results," she says. "I wouldn't call once or twice a day. I'd call them 10 times a day until I got someone on the phone and said, 'What are you going to do about this?'"
If Phelps' persistence has ruffled some feathers, she hasn't heard any complaints or felt any repercussions. And, she adds, the selectboard has supported her efforts "200 percent."
So, what's next for Phelps when her term as health officer expires in 2007? "Getting some sleep!" she says. She's earned it.
Clarendon board requests probe of trailer park
January 17, 2006
By SANDI SWITZER Herald Correspondent
CLARENDON Town officials have requested a state investigation into health and safety issues at the Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park.
The Clarendon Select Board and town health officer Roxanne Phelps have issued a written request to Attorney General William Sorrell asking the state to examine short-term needs and long-range issues at the Route 103 facility.
Items needing immediate attention, according to the letter, included water and soil quality at the park, power surges and tree maintenance. It further requested the state explore whether the park owned by Robert Carrara was in compliance with state statutes.
"Park law is unambiguous that park owners are obligated to deliver safe premises, potable water, functioning septic and basic safety in the lot and the park," according to the letter. "In each of these regards, the Carrara's history is one of evading, avoiding and delaying any remedial action on their part."
The letter addressed to Sorrell was dated Jan. 4 and signed by Phelps and Select Board Chairman Michael Klopchin.
Board members approved a motion by a 3-0 vote at a meeting on Monday to send the letter to the attorney general's office. Selectman Robert Sebasky and Selectwoman Nancy Buffum abstained due to possible conflict of interest issues.
Klopchin noted the town had spent about $5,000 this year on the health officers budget, and he said most of those expenses were related to Whispering Pines. State involvement would curtail local expenses and provide assistance in resolving park issues, he said.
"The park has a long history of water, septic and other habitability issues, in addition to fractious relations between the park owner and residents," the letter indicated. "Without dwelling on the past, we think that current park conditions demand concerted action on the part of state regulatory agencies, including your office, to make sure that the mobile home park statutes that govern this landlord-tenant arrangement have teeth."
The letter indicated the state had spent "nearly $100,000" delivering bottled water to the park over the past 10 years. "The water in the park is characterized by its bleach smell and taste, high sediment levels, discoloration and skin irritation," according to the letter.
Contaminated soil can be found near residents' homes and power surges are a part of daily life, town officials wrote.
"Dangerous trees and tree limbs have been neglected by the park owner despite persistent complaints from residents," according to the request.
"It is our hope that the attorney general's office will see it fit to become more formally involved in the situation at Whispering Pines," the letter concluded.
Carrara said in telephone interview on Thursday he was not made aware park issues would be discussed at the Select Board meeting. Carrara also indicated town officials had "blind-sided" him by not notifying him of the letter to be sent to Sorrell.
"I can't imagine that they'd send a letter out like that without sending me a copy," he said.
A number of infrastructure improvements related to water and septic lines have been completed, and numerous trees and limbs identified by residents as hazardous were removed, according to the park owner.
Carrara said the state's Solid Waste Division conducted a water analysis at the park this fall. "That water is excellent," he said. "And to the best of my knowledge and my engineers' knowledge, there is no contaminated soil down there."
The park owner added Whispering Pines was in compliance with the state's mobile home park law.
Branch punctures home's roof
November 2, 2005
By SANDI SWITZER Herald Correspondent
CLARENDON A branch from an oak tree that was slated to be removed ended up coming through the roof of a local mobile home during last weekend's storm.
The large limb punctured the roof of an addition to Norm Flander's mobile home at the Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park following a stretch of snowy, windy weather throughout the region last week.
Saturday the limb could still be seen protruding from the structure and a smaller limb created a second hole in the roof.
Flanders could not be reached for comment, but neighbors said the homeowner was lucky not to be in his workshop at the time of the incident.
"If someone had been standing there, they could have taken it in the head," park tenant Sandy Shum said.
The oak tree was one of several trees at the park marked the tree with a bright orange X to be removed by park owner J.P. Carrara and Sons Inc.
In a letter dated Oct. 25 from health officers Roxanne Phelps and Charles Davis to Christine Carrara, officials requested trees deemed hazardous by the town to be removed "as they pose a risk to all."
The health officers requested park owners take action on the trees by a Nov. 4 deadline. Phelps and Davis had inspected the trees in late August following numerous complaints by tenants.
The letter was sent to Carrara after officials returned to the park and "re-investigated" complaints regarding the trees.
In an earlier letter to tenants, Christine Carrara notified residents a professional arborist had inspected trees at the park and marked several with colored tape.
Trees with light green tape were considered dead and would be removed, while trees with dark blue tape were considered hazardous and were to be removed, she wrote. Trees with yellow tape were considered to have dead wood and would have branches removed, according to Carrara's letter.
The oak tree situated near Flander's home was marked with a yellow tape by Carrara's arborist, and an orange X by the health officers.
Phelps and Davis inspected Flander's home Saturday after they were notified the two limbs had pierced the rooftop about three feet apart.
"One limb came all the way through about 18 inches, and then there was a smaller limb that punctured the roof," Davis said in a telephone interview Sunday.
The health officer said interior and exterior photographs were taken for town records. Davis said he had not spoken with Carrara, but he added he would like the remaining trees removed soon.
Robert Carrara said Sunday evening he had not been informed of the incident. He explained he was awaiting more direction from the town before finalizing a tree-removal plan.
"I'm waiting for direction from the health officers as to what constitutes a hazardous tree. They want every tree at the park removed," he said. "They haven't had any professional help on what constitutes a hazardous tree."
Carrara said he would be willing to work with the town on removing the trees, but he added he could not finalize a plan until both sides agree on the work to be done.
He added he was not sure whether the park insurance or homeowner insurance would pay for the damage to Flander's home.
Clarendon OKs funding for stone quarry appeal
October 31, 2005
By SANDI SWITZER Herald Correspondent
CLARENDON Town funds will be used for experts to review a number of issues related to the operation of a local stone quarry.
The Clarendon Select Board has approved spending $1,500 to explore health and safety matters related to J.P. Carrara and Sons, Inc. activities at its Route 103 facility.
An additional $1,500 was approved for the town's attorney, William Bloomer, to follow Carrara's appeal of an Act 250 permit through Environmental Court, and participate, if necessary.
The board spent nearly 90 minutes in executive session earlier this week to discuss issues related to Carrara's quarry activities. Three members of the Select Board, Bloomer and Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, participated in the closed-door hearing.
Board members Robert Sebasky and Nancy Buffum recused themselves from the executive session to avoid the "appearance of impropriety." Buffum is a quarry neighbor and Sebasky has a relative who works for Carrara.
Following the lengthy executive session, Selectman David Potter made a motion to appropriate $1,500 for experts to investigate "health and safety issues" raised by quarry neighbors.
His motion included an additional $1,500 expenditure to allow Bloomer to file a notice of appearance on behalf of the town, and for the town's attorney to participate, if necessary, in the Environmental Court case.
There was no public discussion on the matter, and Potter, along with Select Board Chairman Michael Klopchin and Selectman Robert Bixby, approved the motion.
Potter said in a later interview the $1,500 would be used for experts to research health and safety issues, and offer testimony if necessary. He said no decisions were made regarding which experts would be involved in the matter.
"We discussed hydrologists or blasters. Those are a couple of possible examples," he said.
Carrara filed an appeal earlier this month with the state Environmental Court regarding an amended Act 250 permit issued for the quarry in July.
The appeal focused on blasting restrictions at the quarry, the permit expiration date, and the creation on an "illegal presumption of liability" should neighbors claim damage due to quarry operations.
Carrara also appealed a requirement of the company's complete infrastructure improvements at its Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park, located adjacent to the quarry.
The company further appealed allowing a number of neighbors and Vermonters for a Clean Environment to have party status and participate in the hearings.
Whispering Pines tenants and several quarry neighbors have repeatedly urged the town to participate in the Act 250 proceedings. The town issued a letter to the District 1 Environmental Commission during the summer hearings regarding numerous health and safety issues.
Smith said in an interview VCE would be helping quarry neighbors throughout the appeal process. Area residents plan to file a cross-appeal by the Nov. 7 deadline.
VCE will provide financial assistance to neighbors, but no estimate could be given on the amount to be spent.
No court dates have been set for the appeal. An initial status conference via telephone between Carrara attorney James Goss and the court has been set for Nov. 10.
Quarry owners will challenge Act 250 permit decision
October 12, 2005
By SANDI SWITZER Herald Correspondent
CLARENDON The owners of a local quarry will go to court to fight an amended Act 250 permit issued with new operating restrictions.
J.P. Carrara and Sons Inc. recently filed an appeal with the state Environmental Court regarding a number of items related to the land-use permit issued by the District 1 Environmental Commission in July.
The appeal focused on blasting restrictions at the quarry, the permit expiration date, and the creation of "an illegal presumption of liability" should neighbors claim damage due to quarry operations.
Carrara further appealed a requirement the company complete infrastructure improvements at Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park, prior to operating under the new permit. The mobile home park is owned by Carrara, and located adjacent to the quarry.
The company also asked the court to rescind party status for a number of neighbors, and nonparty participating status to Vermonters for a Clean Environment.
Carrara sought an amended Act 250 permit to more than double the depth of its quarry from 70 feet to 175 feel. The company also wants to increase truck trips from 120 to 140 round trips per day. Both requests were approved in the amended permit.
But a request to increase the total explosive weight of each blast from 2,500 pounds to 6,500 pounds was denied, along with a request for a 30-year permit extension.
Several restrictions were attached to the permit, including a requirement that Carrara install a sediment filtration system, piping and pumps at Whispering Pines to ensure a potable water supply at the park. The District Commission ruled that quarry activities had resulted in deterioration of water supply and septic piping systems at the park.
The permit also shifted the burden of proof to Carrara that its operations do not affect water supplies or cause structural damage at the mobile home park.
Should neighbors claim damage or loss, the quarry owner must prove the damage was not due to its operations, according to the permit.
"The commission created an illegal presumption of liability on the part of the permittee for any damage claimed by any person in the project vicinity in contravention of common law burdens of proof " according to Carrara's appeal.
The document also said the commission "impermissibly injected itself into a landlord-tenant dispute" by forcing Carrara to make infrastructure improvements at its Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park.
The quarry owner further appealed blasting restrictions, and the commission's decision to deny a 30-year extension for quarry operations. The permit expiration date is June 1, 2016.
Carrara attorney James Goss did not return a telephone message seeking comment on the appeal.
Whispering Pines tenant Sandy Shum said the park's tenant association would be participating in the appeal. However, she said no final decisions had been made regarding what, if any, cross appeals would be filed.
Shum said she was satisfied with the amended Act 250 permit issued by the District Commission last summer.
"It gives the community a lot more protection, and if they enforced what they have in the decision it would be excellent," she said. "As far as the appeal to Environmental Court, they have to do what they have to do, and we have to do what we have to do."
September 14, 2005
Many thanks for your excellent coverage of the fight for clean water that is being waged by residents of the Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park in Clarendon ["Local Matters," September 7] . The comparison to the New Orleans disaster is appropriate in more ways than one. Yes, the water is contaminated, there is not enough water, and there are problems with sewage disposal.
Beyond that, the analogy is frightening because the low-income tenants of J.P. Carrara and Sons have been living with this situation for 10 years, in full view of state regulators who issued violation after violation notice, took enforcement action that required Carrara to pay a fine, and then held Carrara in contempt for failing to comply with the agreement set forth by the court. And still nothing changed for the tenants.
Bureaucratic incompetence or willful neglect, the results are the same: lives are lost, health is damaged, and the problems continue.
The victory that was bestowed upon the residents of Carrara's mobile home park by Act 250 will be short-lived. The District Commission took the residents' concerns seriously and put conditions on the permit that attempts to protect them. But J.P. Carrara and Sons has already said they will appeal to Environmental Court. The corporation is represented by an expensive law firm. Who will represent the tenants? Who will present expert witness testimony about the potential for deepening Carrara's quarry next door from 70 feet to 175 feet deep to spread the contamination in the aquifer or further damage the infrastructure and water supplies at the mobile home park and neighbors' properties? How will low-income Vermonters participate in a system designed only for those who can afford it?
If you have any answers, please contact Vermonters for a Clean Environment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, someone sent me an article from a Ronoake, Virginia, newspaper that ran on September 8. The headline reads: "Trailer park owner gets two-year prison sentence." Until Vermont is prepared to take such actions, we can expect a continuation of the failed regulatory system that exposes Vermonters to unhealthy living conditions, driving up the cost of health care for all. Please don't send all your money south. There is ample need right here at home.
Smith is executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.
Water tests slated for Clarendon mobile home park
September 10, 2005
By SANDI SWITZER Herald Correspondent
CLARENDON The state plans to conduct a wide spectrum of water quality tests at the Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park in response to health and safety concerns at the Route 103 facility.
An environmental analyst from the Agency of Natural Resources' Waste Management Division confirmed in a telephone interview Thursday water samples throughout the park would likely be collected for analysis within the next month.
"I don't think it should take more than 30 days to get out there, collect the samples, send them to the laboratory, and await their analysis," Robert Haslam said.
He added Whispering Pine tenants would be notified of the site inspection in order to participate in the process.
"It would make sense to collect these samples from a variety of locations throughout the park, and it may make sense to collect samples right from folks' taps," Haslam said. "If we do that, then certainly we'd want to schedule those visits with the folks owning those taps."
Clarendon's health officers cited about a dozen health violations at Whispering Pines in a document delivered to park owners Robert and Christine Carrara on Aug. 22.
Health officers found an inadequate water supply, dirt in toilet holding tanks, septic seepage issues and other health and safety concerns.
Six of the nine park tenants have been withholding rent since Aug. 1 as a result of many of those same issues. Tenants outlined their own health and safety concerns in a letter sent to the park owner in June.
Haslam said his department's actions came in response to communications with the Carraras.
The state official said his office had contacted two consulting firms in order to make arrangements for a timely site inspection. Haslam said he expected to "iron out" a schedule for the water tests and laboratory analysis soon.
ANR has conducted routine water quality tests at the park as a result of petroleum contamination of the water supply in the mid-1990s. The contamination was due to leaking underground fuel storage tanks situated near the park.
"There's a treatment system that's been in place since 1995 to remove that contamination," Haslam said. "It's unusual that there's been both gasoline contamination and these other issues, and that is why we're taking a look at these other matters to find out whether they are related."
Christine Carrara outlined a number of general proposals to explore regarding park water and septic issues in a document sent to town officials on Sept. 2.
Carrara's letter came in response to issues raised last month by the town's health officers, Roxanne Phelps and Charles Davis. Copies of the document were distributed to Whispering Pines tenants.
Carrara indicated a Rutland-based engineering firm, Enman Engineering, would be conducting an investigation into water pressure and septic seepage complaints.
She noted the state's Department of Environmental Conservation required an engineer's evaluation prior to beginning any work on a water distribution system or septic system "beyond a simple repair."
Tests conducted on Whispering Pine's well last year indicated the water supply was "sufficient for the park's demand," she wrote.
ANR's Waste Management Division had agreed to address water quality issues at the park in response to sediment and odor complaints, according to Carrara.
The agency "has years of water quality test results for the park from the petroleum cleanup effort in the area. These results are published quarterly and are public information," she wrote.
The state for years has supplied bottled water to park tenants as a result of the contamination. ANR's Charles Schwer confirmed on Thursday the state continued to supply the water "just as a precaution."
Two park tenants interviewed Wednesday expressed their dissatisfaction with Carrara's response to residents' concerns.
"They need to take action, not talk about taking action. No more walk-throughs, we need action," Carol Callahan said. "I would like to see everyone stop cushioning Carrara, and start thinking about our safety."
Sandy Shum said no timetable was issued for corrective measures, and more site inspections would merely delay much-needed work at the park.
She said she was not impressed with indications the state would be investigating water quality issues. Shum said the state was aware of the park's history of water and septic issues, and had never taken serious enforcement actions against the owner.
"The state doesn't send bottled water to all of these people in the park for all these years just to make us feel better," added Callahan.
Shum said copies of all water and soil tests as well as written communications between Carrara and state officials ought to be supplied to tenants.
"Why should we have to travel to Montpelier to find out what's in our water, our soil and our environment," she said.
Haslam said users of the park water supply are entitled to copies of tests, and he added tenants could request to be added to the list for notification of results.
Shum said tenants should be notified of all site visits by engineers and others so residents have the opportunity to participate.
Christine Carrara wrote that other actions to be taken included removal of any trees deemed to be hazardous by a professional tree service, removal of abandoned telephone wiring, and suggestions for one tenant to address erosion complaints.
An above-ground abandoned pipe on a vacant lot was removed, electric meters sealed, and soft ground spots filled and reseeded, according to Carrara.
Tenants Score in Fight Over Water Quality
MOBILE HOMES (09.07.05)
CLARENDON -- A slower-motion and smaller-scale version of the New Orleans disaster continues to beset residents of a soggy, shaken and possibly poisoned trailer park in Clarendon.
Tenants of the Whispering Pines mobile home park, situated near the Rutland State Airport, have refused to succumb, however, and they recently wrested pledges from their landlord to address many of their grievances. Most of the 25 residents are backing up their demands by withholding their $185 monthly rent payments.
Town health officials and an environmental advocacy group have joined in pressing the park's owner, J.P. Carrara & Sons, to make a range of improvements in the park. Activists experienced in these types of housing issues say it is unusual for town officials to intervene so effectively against a locally powerful company such as Carrara.
All manner of water-related problems have plagued Whispering Pines for the past 15 years. Leaks from underground fuel storage tanks contaminated residents' drinking water for an unknown period until the seepage was discovered in 1990. Water pressure dropped so low in the mid-'90s that a shower in one trailer might slow to a drip if someone in a neighboring trailer flushed the toilet. That was also around the time when sewage from a backed-up septic system began eddying into pools in residents' yards, recalls Whispering Pines tenant Sandy Shum.
In 2001, Shum relates, scalding and smoking water came gushing out of her kitchen tap -- probably because chemicals in the pipes had somehow ignited, she suggests. More recently, some trailers have suffered structural damage from ground-shaking explosions at an adjoining quarry also owned by Carrara, a Middlebury stone-working firm. In some residents' opinion, the blasts may also be to blame for the foul odor and occasional discoloration of their drinking water.
In keeping with the biblical proportions of the park's problems, sinkholes have opened in some driveways and backyards. Late last month, Clarendon town officials on an inspection tour of Whispering Pines discovered 12 health-code violations.
Conditions in the park had become so intolerable that residents tried to move away en masse last year. But the Douglas Administration turned down Clarendon's request for funds to cover relocation expenses.
Even so, the number of homes in the park has dropped from 18 to nine in the past few years. Some residents moved their trailers to less frightening locales. Others died, including two cancer victims who, according to Shum, had kept drinking water from the wells at Whispering Pines.
Carol Callahan, a 7-year park resident and mother of two children, says the high attrition rate is the product of a strategy on Carrara's part. Besides driving away the park's tenants, Callahan says, Carrara has been buying up other homes near the quarry site -- all in an attempt to mute protests against its operation and planned expansion of the quarry.
But Carrara's move to extract more dolomite from its Clarendon pit has provided Whispering Pines tenants leverage in their battle with the landlord.
The regional Environmental Commission recently attached stringent conditions to an Act 250 permit Carrara had sought in order to deepen its quarry from 70 feet to 175 feet. The company will now be required to install a sediment-filtration system and new water piping at the park. The commission also put the burden of proof in future disputes with park tenants squarely on Carrara. The firm must henceforth show that any water problems or structural damage at Whispering Pines are not the result of its quarrying activities. Carrara is also promising to correct all health-code violations cited by Clarendon officials.
Tenants are hopeful that these moves will help make the park safer and healthier. "But we intend to closely monitor Carrara's actions to make sure the requirements are met," says Clarendon town health officer Roxanne Phelps.
Along with fellow health inspector Chuck Davis, Phelps is described by an environmental activist as "the hero of this story." The two officials have been willing to take on a locally powerful company on behalf of residents whose voices often go unheard, says Annette Smith, director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.
At a recent meeting in Clarendon's town hall, Phelps confronted a Carrara attorney with a container of water that had just been drawn from a Whispering Pines trailer's kitchen tap. Phelps asked the lawyer to drink the smelly liquid. He declined her offer.
Phelps says she is trying hard to help the tenants because "this is a very small community, and if people don't see Chuck and me working to help our neighbors, they're going to look at us and wonder what we're doing."
It's been a difficult fight, adds Smith. "Citizens in this neighborhood are so completely disadvantaged," says the head of the Danby-based group, which has been battling state officials over what it maintains is their failure to enforce environmental laws at Whispering Pines. "These are low-income people dealing with a wealthy corporation. The reason things are in such condition at that park is because of 10 years of neglect."
Jay Rutherford, director of the water supply division at the Agency of Natural Resources, says his unit regularly tests the well water at Whispering Pines, and has found it safe to drink. Rutherford concedes, however, "Things can go wrong between the well and the tap." And he says he respects residents' claims about problems with water pressure and quality.
But the state no longer has jurisdiction over the water at Whispering Pines. When the number of hook-ups to wells at a housing development falls below 15, ANR stops enforcing standards covering public water supplies.
Carrara, which bought the park about 10 years ago, has repeatedly ignored complaints about drinking water and septic systems, tenants contend. According to Shum, company officials typically say that it's not their responsibility to police the park, or that if tenants don't like living there, they should move away.
Carrara also did not respond to requests, through the company's attorneys, for comments for this story.
Carrara Act 250 permit spurs resident debate in Clarendon
August 10, 2005
By SANDI SWITZER Herald Correspondent
CLARENDON Questions outnumbered answers as residents voiced their concerns to town officials regarding a recently issued Act 250 permit for a Route 103 quarry owned by Joseph P. Carrara and Sons Inc.
Approximately a dozen residents attended a Clarendon Select Board meeting Monday to discuss the amended land use permit allowing Carrara to expand the dolomite quarry and increase truck traffic.
Owners Christine and Richard Carrara were also present at the meeting.
However, Select Board Chairman Michael Klopchin cautioned that the meeting was not warned as a public hearing on the matter. He said town officials were willing to hear a limited number of comments from residents, and then warn a hearing for a later date.
Selectmen David Potter and Robert Bixby said they had not reviewed the 17-page document, and would not be able to offer many answers.
The District 1 Environmental Commission issued an amended Act 250 permit late last month allowing the quarry owner to lower the excavation depth by another 105 feet, and to increase truck traffic from 120 to 140 round trips per day.
Residents opposed to the expansion plan won significant concessions as district officials attached a number of strict conditions to the permit. Carrara bears the burden of proof regarding impacts on nearby water supplies and structural damage caused by quarry operations.
The quarry owner must also install a sediment filtration system, piping and pumps at the adjacent Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park prior to operating under the new permit.
However, chief among the concerns raised at Monday's meeting were enforcement issues related to permit conditions. Residents asked who would be responsible for determining whether quarry activities interfered with water supplies or caused structural damage.
Klopchin redirected the question to the owners.
"I'm just like the rest of your board members up there, I haven't fully analyzed this," Richard Carrara said.
Clarendon resident David Bride spoke in favor of the restrictive land use permit, but he said quarry owners would likely file an appeal. He asked the town to financially support the opposition effort.
The town cannot use taxpayers' money for such a purpose without voter approval, said Potter. He suggested Bride could petition the board to place an item on the Town Meeting ballot in March asking residents for their opinion on the matter.
After nearly 30 minutes of discussion, board members agreed to schedule a public hearing for Monday, Aug. 15 at 6 p.m. The tentative hearing site is the Clarendon Grange Hall, pending availability.
The Select Board will invite District 1 Environmental Commission coordinator William Burke to the hearing.
Carrara gets Act 250 permit with conditions
August 8, 2005
By SANDI SWITZER Herald Correspondent
CLARENDON Joseph P. Carrara and Sons Inc. has been granted an Act 250 permit to expand its dolomite quarry operation off Route 103, though that expansion will be restricted.
Town residents, who have been vocal in their concern and opposition about the quarry project, won some significant concessions, including that the company prove its operations will not cause damage to neighbors' homes.
The District 1 Environmental Commission issued Carrara and Sons an amended land-use permit late last month, allowing the operation to lower the depth of its quarry by another 105 feet and to increase truck trips from 120 to 140 round trips per day.
Commissioners denied a request, however, to alter the quarry's blasting schedule to increase the explosive weight from 2,500 pounds to 6,500 pounds per blast.
A request for a 30-year extension of the permit was also denied, with the expiration date set at June 1, 2016.
Several conditions were attached to the amended permit, including a requirement that Carrara install a sediment filtration system, piping and pumps at the adjacent Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park.
According to the permit, these requirements were added to ensure that a potable water supply at the park owned by Carrara is free of contaminants and suitable for normal home use.
The Select Board will hold a public hearing at 7 tonight at town hall to review the permit and take comments from residents.
The permit also required measuring devices be installed at the nearby Carroll and Nancy Buffum residence in order to detect structural damage caused by blasts.
In addition, Carrara now bears the burden of proof regarding impacts on water supplies and structural damage caused by quarry operations.
Should neighbors claim wells failed to provide adequate water supply as a result of Carrara's activities, the quarry owner must prove the failure was not caused by its operations, according to the permit.
Likewise, the permit presumes Carrara responsible for claims of loss or damage to neighborhood structures as a result of operations, unless the quarry owner can prove otherwise.
Previously, homeowners had to prove Carrara was the cause of their loss.
"We are very appreciative that the commission took the concerns of the community into consideration, and put such severe permit conditions on this," said Annette Smith of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.
Smith said the requirement to install a sediment filtration system and piping at Whispering Pines prior to operating under the new permit is important for park tenants. Shifting the burden of proof to the quarry owner is also a significant finding, she said.
"This is a much higher bar than I've ever seen in any permit condition. The commission has put Carrara on a very short leash," Smith said. "However, the big question is, how are these things going to be enforced."
Park tenant Sandra Shum said enforcement was a key concern among tenants responding to news of the amended Act 250 permit.
Shum said Whispering Pines' landlord has a track record of noncompliance regarding safety issues at the park, and numerous state agencies have failed in the past to enforce penalties.
"It's like one tenant here said, 'We must enforce the enforcers,'" Shum said. "If that is the commission, I hope they step up to the plate." She added the Agency of Natural Resources, as well as other state agencies, ought to make enforcement a top priority.
Park tenant Carol Callahan said the lengthy permitting process had put a financial strain on many residents who participated in the hearings.
"One thing I've learned through this whole thing is the laws need to be changed. The system is set up for people with money, and not for people who don't," she said. "There's too much expense that goes into this. And for people who don't have the money, they have to just live with whatever people with money can do."
The dolomite quarry has been active since the mid-1980s, with operations including blasting, extraction of aggregate and hauling material to Carrara's cement plant and a local asphalt plant. Other activities included dewatering the existing hole by directing water to detention ponds, then to a wetland.
The quarry is at its 70-foot depth level, and Carrara sought permission to go down another 105 feet. The revised blasting schedule was needed to increase quarry efficiency, while reducing the frequency of blasting, according to Carrara's application.
During the permitting process, the commission observed two quarry demonstration blasts from the Whispering Pines park as well as the Buffum residence. The commissions' findings indicated the 2445-pound morning blast event "created a muffled and largely unobtrusive impact in terms of perceived noise, ground vibration and air shock."
However, the 6,498-pound afternoon blast event "created an impact at the Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park that was substantially more adverse in terms of perceived noise and ground vibration/air shock impacts. At the Buffum residence, home decorations were perceptibly set in motion by the blast. The commission finds these impacts to be unduly adverse."
Whispering Pines has had an erratic history with regard to its water quality and supply. ANR conducts quarterly water tests at the park as a result of petroleum contamination several years ago from nearby leaking fuel tanks.
Because of its size, however, the mobile home park is no longer required to meet state public water supply regulations.
"The commission finds that this is cause to be even more cautious with respect to potential blasting or other quarry impacts upon that water supply, which presently serves nine homes in the trailer park," according to permit documents.
Carrara attorney James Goss did not return telephone messages seeking comment on the amended Act 250 permit and conditions.
Motions to alter the permit must be filed within 15 days of the permit's July 28 issuance. Appeals must be filed with the Environmental Court within 30 days.
February 4, 2005
Insult to injury: Cancer clusters bedevil community
By Kathryn Casa | Vermont Guardian
CLARENDON In a framed school photograph, Wanda Crossmans daughter, Kayla, beams a pretty smile over the hungry breakfast crowd at the Whistlestop Restaurant. But that and Crossmans three-egg omelets are about the only light aspects of this weekday morning.
At the counter of the bustling diner, folks swap cancer stories.
Remember Johns wife how she loved brook trout? commented one diner. You used to see him down there under the bridge fishing for her dinner three, four times a week. Well, she passed.
Most people know someone who has had cancer: One in four U.S. citizens will develop the disease at some time in their lives, according to national statistics. But in Clarendon, cancer has struck at the heart of the community its children at a rate some 15 times the national average.
Various types of cancer, as well as multiple sclerosis and other serious illnesses, also have surfaced with disquieting frequency among adults in the community, including Moulton Avenue, where preliminary evidence has revealed 18 cases of cancer and non-Hodgkins lymphoma since the 1960s.
Kayla is one of seven Rutland County children three in Clarendon alone diagnosed with leukemia from 2000-2002. A fourth Clarendon child was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma during the same period, according to the states cancer registry.
Statistical models indicate two leukemia cases would be considered normal for that period. Spread over 10 years, however, the leukemia rate is not higher than expected, according to UVM biostatisticians, because there were no reported cases in the county between 1994 and 1999, when four would have been expected.
From her smiling photo, its impossible to know that Kayla has been through hell and back, as her mother puts it through chemotherapy and in and out of coma. Diagnosed four years ago, at age 11, today she is in remission, her last chemo treatment almost two years ago. Still, Wanda Crossman said, were petrified every day any cold or cough Her voice trails off.
Although Kaylas illness is behind her, hopefully forever, a quarry owners proposal to expand the blasting operation has shaken loose a raft of renewed health concerns in a town besieged by a Pandoras Box of toxic woes.
What we have found is not a smoking gun, weve found a firing range of pollution. There are points all over this town that could be investigated, said Alyssa Schuren, state director of the Montpelier-based Toxics Action Center.
People call and ask us to help them when there has been one environmental insult to their community, said Schuren. Its very rare when we see more than one, two at the most. But in Clarendon, in every corner you look, you see another potential or historical threat.
Nestled just below Rutland Airport on state Route 103, Clarendon is home to some 2,800 residents who, over the past decade, have shared their towns 31 square miles with a dolomite quarry, an asphalt plant, a toxic sludge repository, and a wood treatment facility. Around them, farmers spray pesticides. Above them runs a 345-kV power line, and below them is a radioactive rock formation.
A second asphalt plant has been approved, although a citizens group Clarendon Neighbors has stalled it through appeals. If its built, it would emit almost 50 tons of carbon monoxide, according to Gale LiCausi, a member of the Clarendon planning commission and part of the community group fighting that plant.
Theres also Joseph P. Carrara & Sons, Inc., the company that wants to expand its dolomite quarry located in a residential/commercial part of the town within 1,400 feet of some 10 residences. A pending application before the District 1 Act 250 commission in Rutland proposes to deepen the 70-foot dolomite pit by 105 feet and increase the blast magnitude from a maximum allowable 2,500 pounds of explosives twice daily to 9,500 pounds.
Carrara officials did not respond to a request for comments for this story.
Quarry neighbors say that at the existing level, the blasts rock their houses and bring tins tumbling from the shelves. It rumbles and it roars and it shakes everything; it rattles the house, the windows, said Clarendon Selectboard member Nancy Buffum, whose 33-year-old home, about 1,200 feet from the quarry, has cracks in the concrete block foundation.
Whispering Pines resident Sandi Shum recalls one particularly strong blast that caused a pair of 100-gallon gas canisters in a neighbors yard to knock together and begin leaking.
Callahan said the mobile home she and her husband bought in 1999 has literally pulled apart at the seams. I was in the bathroom one day and I looked up and the walls had separated. My neighbors could see me. A few months later, I opened up my cupboard and I could see outside.
Carrara, which bought the park in early 1990s, has told residents that the problems are not related to the quarry operation.
The companys new blasting proposal rattles more than homes and nerves. It has reawakened memories of a seminal event in the towns recent past that helped drive the belief that Clarendons cancers may be traced to a specific source.
In 1990, state officials discovered that two underground fuel storage tanks near the Whispering Pines park, one at the Clarendon General Store and the other at a Honda dealership next door, had been leaking for an unknown period of time. About 1,200 gallons of fuel were recovered in the cleanup, but consultants have estimated that as much as 11,000 gallons of gasoline with benzene, a known carcinogen, had spilled into the water table before the leaks were detected.
Seven wells at the park were contaminated with benzene up to and exceeding allowable levels, and MTBE was found in levels at double and triple todays state drinking water standard. The park was put on bottled water and remains that way today.
Meanwhile, the resident of an apartment over the general store was drinking water contaminated at more than 400 times the states acceptable benzene levels. That resident was Wanda Crossman, and she was pregnant with Kayla.
Searching for the source
In 1992, the owners of both the general store and the Honda dealership accepted responsibility for the fuel spill, and the tanks were replaced four years later. But there remains a widespread belief among townspeople that blasting from the quarry shook loose the tanks fittings.
Carrara has never accepted any responsibility, nor has anyone attempted to test the theory in court. Whose to say? said Crossman during a pause in the breakfast rush at her diner last week. Nobody ever followed through to find out what caused the tanks to leak. How can they prove to us it wont happen again?
For four years before the fuel spill was discovered, from 1986-1990, Clarendon farmer Robert Ruane was spreading sludge from the City of Rutlands sewer plant on 27 acres of his 99-acre farm along the Cold River just north of Clarendon Elementary School. Ruanes permit allowed for 6.5 tons of treated sludge per acre. But in 1989, Rutland disposed of 4,400 tons of sludge, or 44 tons per acre, on Ruanes farm much of it inadequately treated. It included waste from the General Electric and Rutland Hospital, as well as from funeral parlors, nursing homes, dry cleaners, and other industrial facilities.
Rutland was slapped with a fine from the federal Environmental Protection Agency for failing to adequately treat the waste, and General Electric paid $30,000 for two years of illegally discharging lead laden wastewater into the citys treatment plant.
Meanwhile, Ruanes cows were dying: two out of his herd of 150 in 1987, 34 the following year, and 66 between 1989 and 1991. A Cornell University autopsy of one bovine revealed high levels of cadmium and lead in the animal, according to Jackie Fenner, a co-founder with Crossman of the community group Clarendon FIRST.
Heavy metals bioaccumulate in the soil, so its not like thats a done deal, Fenner said of the farm, which was recently sold. That stuff is still in the soil and that soil is still eroding into the river. Do I think its as much of a threat as it was [in the 80s]? Absolutely not. Do I think they should test the soil? Absolutely.
State: Nothing alarming
Clarendon has gotten a lot of attention from the state. The town has its own page within the Department of Environmental Conservations website; the Department of Health has been eyeing the cancers; and environmental and agriculture officials continue to monitor air, water, and soil.
There wasnt anything alarming, said George Desch with the Department of Environmental Conservation. Indoor air samples taken in Clarendons two schools showed only traces of a cleaning chemical, but we kind of attributed that to janitorial services, and again, they werent significant, he said.
More than a year ago, a panel of experts from the state as well as public health, academic, and medical communities was convened to examine whether the cancers were due to chance, or was it due to some shared exposure or characteristic among the cases? [A]re there environmental hazards in this community that may be contributing to this apparent increase, and can they be mitigated? the panel asked in a January 2004 report.
The experts recommended close monitoring of childhood leukemia cases in Rutland County, an epidemiological study of the cancers, if possible, and continued environmental testing.
The panelists also did not discount a hypothesis that the Clarendon Springs Formation, a vein of radioactive dolomite that runs through Clarendon, may be a contributing factor to this apparent [cancer] cluster.
Radionucleotides could come in contact with those at risk at levels high enough to present a possible hazard, the panel observed.
The hypothesis is that if somebody has a drinking-water well and it intercepts rock that is part of the Clarendon Springs Formation, you would have a higher concentration of radioactive materials and that potentially could be a problem if there is a fracture through the Clarendon Springs rock and it extends to another formation, said Bruce Tease, senior environmental scientist with ECS Marin consultants in Brattleboro.
Castleton State College geology professor Helen Mango said that out of a dozen water samples she took from Clarendon wells about 18 months ago, only a few showed radioactivity sufficient to warrant uranium testing. Follow-up tests of those samples showed no elevated levels. So the state considers the water to be safe to drink from a radioactivity point of view, Mango said.
But according to Tease, increasing blasting around the Clarendon Springs Formation is still probably an imprudent move. Do we want to be doing this kind of thing in a community that has this level of concern regarding cancer? Should we play around with the roulette wheel by increasing the potential chance [of] making things worse?
Clarendon FIRST has hired Tease, with a pair of grants from the state, to continue conducting rigorous air, water, and soil tests. Last week, his firm took air quality samples at both the elementary and high schools attended by all four of the juvenile cancer victims.
The group expects to release the results of those tests in early March, Fenner said, along with something state officials have been waiting for: a community-wide health survey conducted by Clarendon FIRST and the Toxics Action Center.
Epidemiologists at Boston University have analyzed the results of that survey, which includes responses from 500 adult residents of Clarendon, Fenner said.
Tease, meanwhile, will continue to focus on the question of radionucleotides. He also plans to test the schools for formaldehyde, a common byproduct of asphalt production, and to analyze drinking-water wells.
As Fenners said: Weve looked at the exposure that we could have been subjected to. Its either something that came and went and left its aftermath and now everything is fine, or the exposure continues.
Clarendon residents in a quandary over quarry
January 17, 2005
By SANDI SWITZER Herald Correspondent
CLARENDON A quarry owner's proposal to expand operations spurred residents to bring their concerns to the Select Board last week.
The five-member board listened on Jan. 10 for more than 90 minutes to concerns regarding Joseph P. Carrara and Sons Inc.'s request to amend an Act 250 permit for its dolomite quarry located off Route 103.
Carrara is seeking permission from the state to lower the depth of the quarry from 70 feet to an additional 105 feet, modify the blasting schedule, and increase the maximum number of truck trips from 120 to 140 round trips a day.
The modified blasting schedule would allow quarry owners to reduce the number of blasts each week by increasing the total pounds of explosives per shot.
Carrara is currently allowed two blasting events a day during the operational season, with a maximum limit of 2,500 pounds of explosives per blast. Under the revised plan, the quarry would be allowed up to 9,500 pounds for a single blast.
Experts testifying on the quarry's behalf at an Act 250 hearing earlier this month said the revised blasting plan would result in fewer blasting events per week, and improved cost and operational efficiency.
At the Jan. 10 Select Board meeting, a half-dozen residents complained that the revised blasting plan and lowered quarry depth could affect local water supplies, wetlands and streams.
They also expressed concerns that boosting the pounds of explosives per blast could result in structural damage to homes and businesses in the area.
"If there's going to be three times more dynamite, it seems to reason that there's going to be more air vibrations and ground vibrations," resident David Bride said.
Another resident, Roy "Lucky" Corey, asked whether Carrara would be responsible for any property damage.
"We have insurance, the blasters have insurance, everyone has insurance," Robert Carrara answered.
"The big problem is you have to prove they caused the problem," Bride told Corey. "They don't have to prove they didn't cause the problem."
Annette Smith of Vermonters for a Clean Environment said she had been working with tenants of the nearby Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park on a variety of issues related to quarry operations.
Smith suggested a thorough pre-blast survey be conducted at homes and businesses in the area, and she questioned how water supplies would be affected by lowering the quarry depth.
She further noted that a 1990 gas leak at nearby businesses had contaminated park water supplies, and she questioned whether revised blasting plans would create further hazards.
She said Carrara had a history of noncompliance with state permit conditions that was "scandalous." She urged town officials to request a more thorough and timely review of compliance issues from the state if the amended permit application is approved.
Finally, Smith requested that Carrara consider paying for independent experts of the town's choosing to review quarry operations.
"I don't know how else to get the independent science that we need here," she said.
However, Carrara said a battery of experts had testified before the district commission that no negative impacts would be caused by quarry activities.
"I already paid for a study of everything," he said.
Carrara noted it had cost the company $50,000 for hydrologists to respond to state inquiries into the operation.
After more than 90 minutes of discussion, the Select Board asked Smith and the town's administrative assistant, Linda Trombley, to draft a letter to the District 1 Environmental Commission outlining concerns presented at the meeting.
State mulls quarry blasting modification
January 7, 2005
By SANDI SWITZER Herald Correspondent
CLARENDON The state is considering whether to approve a number of requests by a local quarry owner to amend an existing land-use permit governing the operation of a dolomite quarry located off Route 103.
The District 1 Environmental Commission heard approximately four hours of testimony on Wednesday from Joseph P. Carrara and Sons Inc., experts in regard to an amended Act 250 application for the quarry. A site visit to the quarry was conducted prior to the hearing.
Quarry owners have requested permission to lower the depth of the quarry another 105 feet from its existing 70 feet, revise the blasting schedule and increase truck trips from a 120 maximum a day to 140 each day.
Modification requests for the blasting plan include a decrease in the number of blasts per week by increasing the total allowed pounds of explosives per shot, with no changes to the limit of pounds of explosives per delay.
Carrara is allowed two blast events a day under the existing Act 250 permit, with a maximum of 2,500 pounds per blast. Under the revised plan, the quarry would be allowed a maximum of 9,500 pounds for a single blast.
Experts testified the revisions would result in fewer blasts each week and improved cost, and operational efficiency.
Engineer and geologist Brian Fowler said the quarry "now blasts a lot more frequently than they want to." The revision to 9,500 pounds would permit the quarry operators to "blast larger areas" with fewer overall events. "The purpose is not to amp up the blasts, but to have flexibility where needed," he said.
Fowler said air and ground vibrations are monitored to detect the amount of "wasted energy" that leaves the quarry site. He said vibrations had not reached levels high enough to result in off-site damage.
Several of the nearly two-dozen Clarendon residents attending the hearing disagreed with that assessment. They described instances when their houses shook, windows rattled and damage occurred. Nancy Buffum, an East Clarendon Road resident, said quarry blasts likely resulted in cracks to her foundation and windows, and fissures in the sheetrock.
Sandra Shum of the nearby Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park described after a blast event hearing a "severe snap, like a crack, and that's when things fell out of the cupboards." Shum said she thought her mobile home was going to split apart.
"To say the neighbors feel no impact from the blasts is absurd," East Clarendon Road resident Reginald Purinton said.
Fowler responded some neighbors may experience an impact from the blasts, but no property damage. "The energy is inefficient to do any damage. What you may be feeling is this air concussion," he said.
District commissioners questioned whether a test blast could be scheduled in order for monitors to be established at several sites to gauge impact. Residents urged tests to include a 2,500-pound blast as well as a 9,500-pound event.
Carrara attorney James Goss commented existing permit conditions required quarry operators to monitor a blast impact on the closest house. He said energy would not "leap frog" over the closest home to adversely impact a structure of greater distance.
Commission Chairman Robert Tepper suggested monitors could provide useful information in light of the quarry's request for a revised blasting plan. "Common sense would cause us to stop and think about that," Tepper said.
Other Carrara experts testified on a number of issues including traffic, wetlands, streams and groundwater.
Hydrologist Craig Heindel detailed the existing quarry operations, including de-watering procedures necessary to evacuate water from the quarry floor. He then described the pump tests conducted to determine potential impacts of quarry activities on nearby wells.
Heindel noted an existing permit condition holds Carrara responsible for any adverse impact on those water supplies. "We are certain that will not happen to any neighboring wells," he said.
However, a representative for Whispering Pine tenants questioned the impact of the quarry operations on the park's water system.
Annette Smith of Vermonters for a Clean Environment said water supplies at the park had diminished, and sediment and water quality issues must be addressed. Smith held up a canning jar filled with water she said had been taken from the park. Sediment and dirt were evident through the clear container.
Smith said tenants were forced to purchase new appliances as result of the damage caused by the sediment. She questioned whether quarry activities including blasting events had resulted in the sedimentation.
Smith also reminded commissioners groundwater had been contaminated several years ago by leaks from underground gas tanks located at adjacent businesses. She said the state was still supplying tenants with bottled water.
Experts responded no link had been established between blasting and the quality or quantity of park water supplies.
Smith also raised the issue that several park tenants as well as neighbors had not been properly notified of the public hearing. "So many impacted by this did not receive notice," she said.
However, Tepper said, "The commission has found sufficient notice has been given."
Commissioners recessed the hearing after approximately four hours of testimony and are expected to issue a recess order in the next few days. A Clarendon Select Board request for an additional hearing during the evening hours was submitted to commissioners.
Jan. 6, 2004 WCAX TV, Burlington
((Nat Sot)) Carol Calahan is not happy with her living situation. She and her husband own a home in the Whispering Pines mobile home park. She and other neighbors have a litany of complaints about the property, including sewage in their front lawns, and water that sometimes runs slowly and is un-drinkable.
((Carol Callahan/Whispering Pines Resident: 5:05: "Some days the water can come out great, other days you're lucky if you get any at all. Sometimes your lucky if you can get a little trickle. Sometimes its black, sometimes it's clear, sometimes it smells good awful."))
So the residents recently applied for a community development grant so they can move their homes off the property. They were turned down ... so they will try again.
((Janet Currie/Advocate for Park Tenants: 16:38: "We're hoping that this time we will either have a government agency step in and close the park because that is one of the criteria they need to apply for the grant, or maybe the owner itself will close the park."))
But that's not likely to happen. State officials say quartely tests show the water is fine, and that owner J.P. Carrara and sons is being ordered to fix the septic system.
((Gary Schultz/Department of Environmental Conservation: 3:35: "I think the water's drinkable, we've gone out of our way cleaning the tanks so when it's stirred up by the bulk load coming in that they're not going to be faced with sediment. We're hauling in bottled water, trying to make life as good as we can for them, and the first complaint we heard of in terms of sewage was a week ago and we sent an investigator out on that, and that will be taken care of."))
But the residents are still wary. They say the bottled water the state delivers as an extra assurance only confirms that not all is well in their wells.
((Carol Callahan/Whispering Pines Resident: 9:20: "So why would you give it to people they're stating don't need it, because their water is drinkable, so let's just spend some money to give 'em bottled water to make 'em feel better. I don't believe it."))
Residents are now exploring legal avenues to see what they can do next.
Mark Bosma, Channel 3 News, Clarendon.
We tried to contact owner J.P. Carrara and Sons of Rutland for comment on this story, but repeated calls to property manager Phil Varney were not returned.
Tuesday, January 6, 2004
Park tenants ask state to help with water
By SANDI SWITZER Herald Correspondent
CLARENDON - Angry residents of the Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park are calling on the state to beef up enforcement of its own laws governing health and safety issues for park tenants.
There are 23 occupants in 11 mobile homes at the park on Route 103, and a number of them are publicly demanding that state officials enforce mobile home park regulations that would require their landlord - J.P. Carrara & Sons Inc. - to provide drinkable water and adequate septic systems.
A group of tenants met Monday at the home of resident Carol Callahan to express their frustrations with the state. Park tenants have lived with failed septic systems and an inadequate water supply for more than a decade, and the park is currently under a boil-water notice, Callahan said.
"If the state is not going to enforce its own regulations, then whose job is it?" she said.
Timothy Raymond of the state's Water Supply Division said the state regulates water delivered from public water systems through pipes to users' taps for showers, baths and consumption.
"The water meets safe drinking water standards, and it's required to," Raymond said. "The precautionary boil-water notice is there because the owner has hauled water by bulk in a tanker in the past, and he has not notified the state that he no longer does that."
The water is routinely tested for volatile organic chemicals, synthetic organic chemicals, and naturally occurring contaminants, he said.
Callahan, who has lived at the park with her husband, Kevin, and two children for five years, said the state has supplied bottled water to residents every few weeks for over 10 years. The last delivery was on Dec. 16, and the next is scheduled for Thursday.
"That's 25 gallons of water for four people," Kevin Callahan said.
Raymond said the state was supplying bottled water through the Petroleum Clean-up Fund as a "confidence booster."
"It's a feel-good provision," he said. "The water within the public drinking water system is safe to drink."
However, park tenants said the inconvenience of using the bottled water is only part of the story.
Sandra Shum, an eight-year resident of the park, said clogged septic systems have backed up into a number of homes and yards, creating foul odors and unhealthy living conditions.
Pat Mallette, who has lived at Whispering Pines for 18 years, said tenants had a long list of health complaints likely caused by the living conditions. She said residents have suffered from migraines, rashes, hair loss, irritated eyes, and other flu-like symptoms.
Raymond said he was surprised to hear tenants had expressed health concerns associated with the water supply.
According to Carol Callahan, the park's water supply became contaminated in the early 1990s because of leakage from petroleum tanks at nearby businesses. The state intervened and installed a water filtration system.
"We first determined the drinking water system was impacted by this leaky underground storage tank in 1991, and bottled water was immediately provided, and water treatment was designed and installed in 1994," Raymond said. "There's been no detectable concentrations in the system since that time."
However, Callahan and other park tenants claimed the water supply has been inadequate and system repairs have not been timely. According to residents, the landlord has been issued four Notices of Alleged Violation related to the park's water supply.
Carrara & Sons purchased the park six years ago, and has not always been responsive to tenants' concerns, a number of residents said.
They said Carrara's blasting and other activities at a nearby quarry contributed to inadequate water supplies, property damage, and more.
"The blasting rattles the windows right out of your house," Kevin Callahan said.
Raymond said some of the issues regarding the park landlord have been resolved, and others are currently being addressed through the department's enforcement division.
"I believe he's agreed to do what has been asked of him," he said.
Whispering Pines manager Phil Varney did not return a telephone message seeking comment.
Tenants intend to ask the District 1 Environmental Commission open an investigation into quarry operations to determine if Carrara has been adhering to all Act 250 permit conditions.
Carol Callahan said park residents recently learned the state has denied the town's application for a Community Development Block Grant to help them relocate. She said state officials responsible for making decisions on grant applications are unaware that fellow state officials have failed to enforce mobile home park regulations, leaving tenants in the lurch.
"One state department thinks another department is overseeing this issue, and no one is doing their job," Callahan said.
She said the state's failure to enforce its own regulations has burdened park tenants, and those residents should receive relocation assistance.
"The goal is for people to get out without financial hardships. They should be able to move, and be in the same financial situation," Callahan said.
Park residents say state unresponsive to pollution woes
CLARENDON, Vt. -- Residents of a mobile home park gathered Monday to complain that the Douglas administration had declined to give them a grant to move away from long-festering pollution problems on the property.
The town of Clarendon recently applied to the state for Community Development Block Grant money to move the residents of two mobile home parks in Clarendon LaCasse and Whispering Pines. LaCasse residents have been awarded relocation funding by Gov. Douglas. Whispering Pines residents' request was denied.
Residents and their advocates noted that of a recent round of the block grants, nearly half of the available money -- $730,000 -- went to help Vermont Plywood buy the Chesapeake Hardwood Mill in Hancock, a move that Gov. James Douglas said would help preserve 60 jobs.
"I know jobs are important, but there has to be a balance. I don't think I should have to live with sewage in my front yard and water that isn't safe to drink," said Whispering Pines resident Carol Callahan.
"My children, ages 6 and 10, are living in unhealthy conditions that nobody would tolerate," Callahan said. "It isn't right. Gov. Douglas seems to be sealed off from the problems the people of Vermont are having. All he cares about is business. What is the point of having laws if nobody enforces them?"
Tim Raymond, systems operations manager with the water supply division of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said Monday that tests on the trailer park's water supply had come up clean since a water filtration system was installed in 1994.
He said there was a "consumer confidence problem" with the water due to various consultants, engineers and regulators checking it over the years and due to fluctuating levels of chlorine, iron and manganese in the water.
In July of 2002, the department ordered the park's owner to improve record keeping and reporting on the water tests.
Residents have said the sewage system in the park was malfunctioning and backing up into yards.