March 4, 2015

State sues Hermitage over violations

By Mike Eldred | The Deerfield Valley News | Mar 04, 2015 |

WILMINGTON- The Vermont Attorney General’s office has filed a civil suit against developers of the Hermitage Inn and Hermitage Club at Haystack, alleging numerous violations of state land use laws.

In a 29-page suit filed in Windham Superior Court last week, assistant attorney general Justin Kolber listed 21 alleged violations in 15 counts against developers. The state is seeking fines of up to $85,000 per violation, fines that could add up to more than $1.75 million. But the state is also seeking fines of up to $42,500 a day for each day a violation continued. Some of the violations date back to fall 2011.

Several of the violations cited in the suit were addressed in 2012, after the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources obtained a court order halting construction over alleged violations that included the construction of a snowmobile trail without a permit and failing to obtain a stormwater runoff permit for construction. In a statement released this week, Hermitage Inn Real Estate Holdings President Jim Barnes said the company agreed to a mitigation plan with the state at that time. “Although the Hermitage didn’t agree with the allegations, we agreed to 100% mitigation at our expense.” Hermitage officials say the mitigation work was approved by the ANR when it was completed in 2013.

In the suit, the unpermitted snowmobile trail is listed under count one, and the alleged stormwater permit violations are listed in several counts. Barnes expressed disappointment that the state sought fines in addition to the mitigation.

The state’s allegations also include several violations regarding the unpermitted construction of a rescue facility, the construction of unpermitted ski and snowmobile trails, the failure to maintain adequate buffer zones along watercourses and wetlands on the property, additional stormwater runoff violations, and the disturbance of wetlands. But the state acknowledges that permits were issued after the fact in some instances, noting specifically that while the Scott Rescue Facility was essentially completed and operational by December 2012, water and wastewater permits were issued at the end of January 2013 and an Act 250 amendment was granted in March 2013.

In count five, the state describes the construction of a wind turbine that was carried out without an Act 250 or an Act 250 amendment. “Beginning in October 2012, Hermitage Inn began construction work on a wind turbine at the summit of Haystack Mountain, including blasting and electrical work.”

Under count six the state claims The Hermitage built a recreational area at the Mirror Lake snowmaking pond without a permit. “Hermitage Inn constructed several docks, a beach area using sand, a fence, a boat rack for swimming and boating activities.” According to the suit, the construction took place in June 2014. A permit application was submitted in July.

Hermitage officials say they were engaged in talks with the state over the alleged violations, and were “surprised and disappointed” to learn that the state had filed the suit seeking fines.

Barnes said The Hermitage will continue to pursue a resolution out of court. “We intend to continue to work with the state of Vermont in an effort to resolve these issues without the need for further litigation,” Barnes said in a release on Tuesday. “However, if we are unable to reach a resolution that addresses the state’s concerns while allowing us to continue to develop and operate our property in an environmentally responsible and reasonable manner, we will vigorously defend ourselves against the state’s claims.”

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