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Emergency zoning petition delivered to Dalton selectmen

Dalton resident Jon Swan (L) from Save Forest Lake reads a petition to residents and Select Board members at the May 20 meeting. The petition, signed by 103 registered voters, requests a special town vote to establish emergency zoning ordinances. (Photo by Angel Larcom) (click for larger version)
May 30, 2019
DALTON — Jon Swan, the face of the newly-formed Save Forest Lake organization and one of the most vocal opponents to a potential landfill in Dalton, delivered a petition to the Select Board at the May 20 meeting. The petition, signed by over one hundred registered voters, requests a special town meeting allowing residents to vote to enact emergency zoning ordinances. Dalton currently has neither a zoning board nor any zoning laws.

The Emergency Temporary Zoning and Planning Ordinance in Certain Towns (RSA 675) authorizes the selectmen, either upon recommendation by the planning board or by written application signed by 5 percent of the voters, to enact emergency zoning. RSA 675 calls for a public hearing no more than seven days before the special town meeting and stipulates that voting is to occur by ballot. The petition submitted to the Dalton Select Board had nearly double the required number of signatures.

If approved by voters, RSA 675 would then lead to the activation of RSA 674:24-29, which lists detailed emergency zoning ordinances. Swan specifically drew attention to Article One of RSA 674:27, which states, "No business, commercial or industrial venture or use shall be permitted which could cause any undue hazard to health, safety or property values or which is offensive to the public because of noise, vibration, excessive traffic, unsanitary conditions, noxious odor, smoke or other similar reason."

The effort to enact emergency zoning ordinances in Dalton is the latest in a series of recent actions to block the potential development of a commercial landfill by Casella Waste Management near Forest Lake. One week before the May 20 Select Board meeting, Swan invited state and federal representatives to a presentation at the Topic of The Town Restaurant in Littleton, followed by a tour of Forest Lake.

"Casella admits it's premature to even argue about this, but let's get out ahead of it before we have to deal with what Bethlehem has had to deal with," said Swan. "We don't need two landfills in the North County."

Swan continued, "The goal here is to empower the town, and it's part of the master plan for the town to have zoning."

Select Board Chair Jo Beth Dudley stressed the importance to do everything correctly and according to the law. Swan concurred, stating "Cross your T's and dot your I's because you know we have a very crafty invader out there. There's a lot at stake here."

If enacted, the temporary zoning ordinances will only hold until the March 2020 town meeting, at which time it will need to be voted on again. Swan asked the Select Board to table any business that comes before them on this topic until citizens have a chance to vote on emergency zoning. He said that he intends to make the same request of the Planning Board.

Dudley referenced NH Revised Statutes Chapter 149M, which outlines solid waste management.

"There's some precedence, but it is not as clear cut as RSA 674," she said.

Wendy Thatcher, a Whitefield resident who owns land in Dalton, referenced the first page of Dalton's Master Plan which "is intended to guide the Planning Board in creating and maintaining land use ordinances that preserve and enhance the quality of life and culture in our community."

"This project is very concerning to us," said Thatcher. "Has the Select Board considered the expense to the town if Casella follows its past practices and challenges the town's standards that are not in the Master Plan?"

Dudley said the potential cost of litigation is a concern. "We need to address the state statutes, including the ones that call for DES to permit landfills," she said before pointing out that Chapter 149M does not preempt local regulation "as long as local regulations are not inconsistent with state law."

"The people of Dalton feel the town needs to protect itself," said Swan. "We need to preserve the quality of life here in the north country. I like where I live. I don't want the noise or the pollution."

Varney Smith
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