Craig Jewett of Otter Creek Engineering explains the event tent site at Suicide Six on Tuesday, October 31, 2017 as proposed by the Woodstock Inn & Resort. (Curt Peterson Photo)
By Curt Peterson, Standard Correspondent
POMFRET – When the Act 250 hearing officers retired into “Recess Session” at 12:30 p.m. on Halloween, Board Chair Tim Taylor announced that the easy part of the permitting process is over – the back-and-forth between the Board and various participants of standing may take as long as six months.
The Woodstock Inn & Resort’s Act 250 permit application for Suicide
Six includes building 6.6 miles of new mountain bike trails, and the installation of an event tent at the top of the chair lift six times a year for weddings and/or corporate events.
Nick Mahood, cross-country ski program and mountain bike program manager for the Woodstock Inn and Resort, which owns Suicide Six, was hoping to have some bike trails open for the 2018 season. The resort has already chosen a mountain bike trail building contractor.
The hearing board, consisting of Taylor, Rod Maclay, Suzanne Butterfield, Linda Matteson and Kim Lutchko, cover the Central Vermont Region for the Natural Resources Board. If NRB grants or denies a permit, and someone objects, they can appeal to the State Environmental Court.
Eighteen attended the hearing: Pomfret Select Board member Emily Grube representing the Select Board, John Moore, Orson St. John and William Emmons III representing the Pomfret Planning Commission, and Alan Blackmer representing the Pomfret Zoning Board of Authority.
Resort vehicles drove everyone to a house very near the top of the chair lift. The driveway and house belong to Ryan Longfield. The attendees walked across Longfield’s property to the proposed tent site.
Tim Reiter, who works for Suicide Six, and Craig Jewett of Otter Creek Engineering, who prepared the permit application, said they plan only one event per month between May and October, limited to between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. Most guests will arrive and leave via chairlift, but the resort vans will be available. Tents will be erected the day of an event or the day before, and removed the following day, even if it is Sunday, Thulander said.
Portable toilets would be on site so guests do not have to go to the lodge to use a restroom. Events will be limited to 140 guests.
After the site visit, during which Orson St. John pointed out to Craig Jewett of Otter Creek Engineering that the application map submitted showed the wrong location for the tent, the group walked back to the vans via “Easy Mile” ski trail that the Resort plans to use as access, thus avoiding crossing Longfield’s lawn.
Longfield figures significantly in the Resort’s plans – according to Woodstock Inn & Resort President and General Manager Gary Thulander, Longfield agreed to allow use of his driveway for access when installing and removing tents, assured the resort he will not be bothered by music during events, and agreed to let the resort connect to his utility system to power lights.
Once back at the lodge, hearing attendees brought up several issues.
Asked about construction of the bike trails, Mahood said the paths would be 2 to 5 feet wide. Topsoil is removed, then the mineral soils beneath are compacted, the surface tilted for easy runoff of water without trail or soil degradation.
The contractor follows a nationally accepted manual for environmentally compatible bike trail construction, Mahood said.
The application indicates the bike trails will be open only Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during the first year.
Bret Ladago of Vermont Fish & Wildlife said he was satisfied that, if the contractor followed the manual, there will be no run-off problem into Barnard Brook, which, he said, has a healthy native brook trout population. He would like any permit to be conditional on creating a 50’ riparian buffer where practical, and erosion-inhibiting plantings elsewhere, as well as regular stream water bacteria monitoring.
The event tent proposal elicited most comments and concerns.
“If you pulled the event tent out of your application,” Taylor said later, “This permit would probably go through right now.”
Emily Grube said Pomfret has appreciated having Suicide 6 as a neighbor since the 1950s and the Select Board supports anything the Resort does to promote it, with a few concerns, the first being increased traffic at the intersection at ArtisTree and the Teago Store.
Jewett said the mountain bike program is budgeted for 200-300 visitors per month during the first year.
“Compared to the 17,000 – 18,000 skiers last winter,” he said, “the mountain bikers are not going to have much impact on traffic when the skiers are gone.”
Emergency services were Grube’s second concern, in that the Woodstock ambulance, which Pomfret contracts for medical emergency care, could not possibly get to the tent site on the proposed “Easy Mile” route without some alterations to slope, surface and drainage. Jewett had said the Resort had no plans to alter the road, but if it is required, it will involve gravel, culverts and a possible storm water permit.
Thulander said he was sure Longfield would let any vehicles pass through his yard to get to an emergency situation.
“What if Mr. Longfield moves?” Grube asked.
“Will the situation require public investment in the roads?” Grube said rhetorically. “Will additional emergency service equipment be needed?”
Tim Reiter said Suicide Six has a four-wheeler with a bed long enough to hold a gurney, so bringing injured bikers or event guests would be done much as it is with skiers and a snowmobile-sled combination.
“When the bike trails are open or there is an event, our emergency patrol will be on duty,” Reiter said.
Dean Merrill brought up Pomfret’s ridgeline statute, which prohibits hilltop infrastructure that can be seen from any public road. At the original tent site it would not be seen, but on the site shown to the visitors it would be clearly visible from Pomfret Road.
Thulander suggested the Resort would be willing to re-site the tent behind the cover of trees.
Noise was another issue – while Thulander said they control event sound in Woodstock Village so that there were no complaints, Grube said, “We hear weddings from low elevations, through the woods, a mile away out here. You’re going to be at the top of a hill.”
Thulander and Taylor agreed having a professional evaluate the noise problem might be a good idea. Taylor also suggested limiting tent weddings to daytimes – the scenery that draws people to the ridgeline won’t be visible at night anyway.
When Mahood said the bike trails will actually be open seven days a week, that just the chair lift would be limited to three days, Emily Grube noted that the Resort’s application and what was really planned seemed to be moving targets.
“Any permit should be very clear about what is allowed and when. From what I’ve heard at this hearing, the fudge factor and creep are very disturbing.”
Taylor hinted a permit might have several conditions attached that may be negotiated before it is issued.
A Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing is scheduled for Nov. 9 at the Pomfret Town Offices to consider the event tent proposal from a town zoning point of view.
This article first appeared in the November 2, 2017 edition of the Vermont Standard.