April 05, 2020

Tremont residents seek to bar high-risk ventures> Possible use of hazardous chemicals feared

TREMONT — Amid concerns that a vacant parcel of land might become the future site of an industrial shop that uses hazardous chemicals to finish boats, a group of residents turned out here Tuesday night to ask the town planning board to consider placing a 180-day moratorium on “high-risk commercial development.”

But in an interview Tuesday afternoon, Larry Reed, the Tremont resident who intends to buy the 4.75-acre lot located near Bernard corner on Route 102, said he no longer plans to build the shop, and called the moratorium proposal “ridiculous.”

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Karin Marchetti, from the village of Bernard, spoke briefly on behalf of at least a dozen residents whose property abuts the land Reed plans to purchase. She gave planners an 11-page document explaining the rationale for a moratorium.

Town planners refused to take up the issue because it was not on their agenda. They will do so in the future, they said.

In her memo, Marchetti, a land conservation attorney by profession, stated that the “residential/commercial zone” that covers approximately half of Tremont’s privately owned land, including the acreage in question, makes no distinction between “clean and safe commercial use” and “industrial” or “high-risk use.”

As a result, businesses involving hazardous materials can exist next to residential dwellings, a fact which could contaminate “our ground water, our wells, our soil, the air we breathe,” she stated. A moratorium would give the town time to address the issue before any such businesses were allowed, she added.

On Tuesday afternoon, Reed said that although he may someday build boat storage sheds on the land, he will not erect an awl-gripping business there as he once considered. Awl-gripping is a boat painting process in which workers finish boat hulls with a powerful chemical paint spray. Hazardous chemicals are used in the process, and workers must wear protective suits with air-fed masks.

Reed, who said he has safely used the technique for 22 years, said he did not abandon the idea out of health concerns because he believes the process is risky only for those intimately involved in the painting process. His real reason for scrapping the plan was because one of his cousins is in the group that objected to it, he said. “I don’t want to fight with family.”

Nonetheless, Reed had caustic words for some of those speaking out on the issue. Their “not-in-my-backyard” attitude imperils Tremont’s economic growth, he stated.

“It’s a classic case of a group of people who don’t want to see a commercially oriented [business] next to them and they will do everything they can to prevent it,” said Reed. Reed said he was particularly frustrated because the zone had been approved for commercial use.

In an interview later, Marchetti acknowledged that she had heard Reed was no longer interested in building his awl-gripping shop, but said she still felt the immediacy of preventing the possibility of such businesses in the residential/commercial zone.

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