Town Buys Ascutney Trails

Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Brownsville — With no debate for or against, and just a few questions, voters who packed Story Memorial Hall Tuesday night easily approved the five articles on the Special Town Meeting warning, including the purchase of 470 acres of the former Ascutney Mountain Ski Resort.

The meeting, which got underway 20 minutes late to allow for the more than 330 voters to sign in and find a place to sit or stand, lasted about an hour. A majority of that time was spent voting and counting ballots for the first article, which sought approval to buy the resort property, which was approved 254-79. The hall erupted in loud cheers when the results were announced.

The purchase of the former base lodge, other buildings and four acres, the Hotel Road and the resort’s water system — all for $1 each — passed by voice vote under articles 2, 4 and 5. The vote allowed the Selectboard to transfer ownership of the water company to a yet-to-be-determined party at a later date, which also passed by voice vote.

“I was cautiously optimistic,” Selectboard Chairman Glenn Seward said as the large crowd filed out of town hall. “I’m just thrilled with the support.”

He thought the fact that the purchase would not impact the tax rate had a lot to do with the easy approval.

When Town Moderator Matt Birmingham called the meeting to order, he surveyed the packed room, including the balcony, with others standing two and three deep in the back or sitting in the aisle, and said it was the largest turnout he had experienced in his 25 years as moderator. The promise was there for some vigorous debate.

Sensing the potential for a long night, Birmingham reversed a ruling requiring a paper ballot he had announced at two informational meetings, and said he would go with a voice vote first in the interest of time.

But time did not become a factor. After Seward said his board fully supported the purchase and Ted Siegler, chairman of the Conservation Commission, said the commission endorsed it as well, residents made it clear their minds were made up, with a few suggestions to move to a vote going unchallenged.

The well-attended informational meetings and mailings by the board had apparently told everyone all they needed to know.

The initial voice vote was not definitive enough for Birmingham, so a ballot vote followed.

“I think it is going to help protect and conserve land,” said supporter Marty Hunt while ballots were being counted. “Making it available for recreational use is a good economic vehicle to bring people into town and generate income.”

Hunt said targeting recreational uses is a good approach and consistent with Vermont’s “personality.”

Of the $600,000 to buy the resort property, which closed in 2010 and has seen all but one of its lifts sold, $50,000 will come from the town’s conservation fund, and the remaining $550,000 will be raised by the national nonprofit Trust for Public Land.

TPL has worked with the town to buy the land and is expected to sign an option on the property with owner MFW Associates soon, which would give the town until next summer to raise the money through private and public donations.

The Selectboard has said the purchase of the property will allow for expansion of the town trail system beyond the abutting 1,342-acre town forest and create more recreational opportunities that will help reinvigorate the local economy, as well as protect the land from development.

The expectation is that property values on the mountain will begin to recover with that increased economic activity.

“I think it is the best interest of the town,” said Scott Smith who, with his wife Heather, supported the purchase. “We don’t have the ski area, so we have to draw people in another way.”

Smith said one alternative to the town buying the property — having the mountain “stripped” of trees in a logging operation — was not something he wanted to 
see.

Before the vote on article 3 to buy the Summit Water Company, Seward said the “other considerations” of the sale in the article refer to a pending agreement with MFW for a cost-sharing on the roughly $56,000 past due by users of the system.

MFW would get 85 percent and the town 15 percent, though the exact percentages have not been finalized. The purchase of the water company includes the wells.

The meeting concluded with Birmingham praising the Selectboard as the hardest working board he has collaborated with as moderator and the audience concurred, applauding loudly.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.




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