BFUHS will fight revocation of permit for athletic field lights
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | February 15,2013
WESTMINSTER — The Bellows Falls Union High School board voted Thursday evening to pursue an appeal with the state Environmental Court over a decision that revoked the permit for the new lights on the school’s baseball and football fields.
Fred Yates, the executor of the estate of Alvin Southwick, the Westminster businessman who left money in his will for the project, said the board agreed to pursue a dual strategy in an effort to resolve the lighting problem.
He said the board agreed to formally appeal the decision by the Westminster Development Review Board, but also sit down with Westminster officials to try and work out an agreement to make sure the lights can be used this upcoming baseball season.
“This way they can come up with a solution so the lights can go on,” said Yates, who said he was pleased with the decision by the School Board. The beneficiary, he said, will be the schoolchildren of the area.
Westminster officials say the lights that were installed last year were not the lights described to them during the permit process, and two Westminster residents had filed complaints about the glare from the lights.
Yates has been working on the project for his friend since 2011, shortly after Southwick died at age 85.
Southwick worked for St. Johnsbury Trucking for more than 30 years, and for a second trucking company another 20 years, Yates said.
He was frugal and invested his savings carefully in banks, not the stock market, said Yates.
Southwick belonged to many fraternal organizations and he wanted to leave money to the local American Legion ball club. Yates said he suggested lighting the local ball field as one of Southwick’s legacies. In fact, Southwick left money to more than a dozen local groups and schools.
Yates said he approached the local school officials about whether they would allow the ball field to be lit. They agreed and the plan was included in Southwick’s will, Yates said Thursday.
So far more than $300,000 has been spent on lighting the ball fields at Bellows Falls Union High School, Yates said.
Yates, acting on behalf of the Rockingham School Board, which actually owns Hadley Field, the athletic field adjacent to the union high school in Westminster, had obtained the permit, but Yates said Thursday he didn’t realize all the details involved in the permit process. “I’m new to this,” he said.
Yates said the detailed information about the lights was taken mistakenly from a brochure of one lighting company he was considering. He said he ended up choosing another company because its bid was $52,000 cheaper, a savings that he was able to use to light the nearby football field.
But Westminster officials, with two complaints in hand from two adjoining landowners to the ball fields, revoked the town permit for the athletic field lights last month, giving the Rockingham board, or its designee, the Bellows Falls Union board, 30 days to file an appeal or not.
Westminster Town Manager Matthew Daskal said Thursday the lights that were permitted were not installed.
While Daskal praised Southwick’s generosity to the people of Westminster, its children and the region, he said the town had to act on the two complaints about the lights.
Aside from the different brand of lights, he said there were other problems with the installation of the lights, including that more lights were installed than originally outlined. And he said the light poles were also higher, and not properly inspected.
Daskal said one resident, Ruth Gale, who lives on Kissell Hill, said the baseball field lights shine into her bedroom and she is unable to sleep because of the glare from the lights.
Another resident, Christian Blake, who owns woodlands adjacent to the football field, has also filed a complaint, Daskal said.
Daskal said Gale and Blake didn’t have to abide by a 30-day appeal period, because they weren’t appealing the permit, but seeking enforcement of the existing permit.
Yates said Gale has refused to take suggestions of new shades on her bedroom windows, and also rejected an offer of a new fence and landscaping to shield the light.
Yates said only about 20 nighttime games were at issue, and the lights went off by 10 p.m., or 10:15 p.m. at the latest.
Earlier in the week, Chris Kibbe, superintendent of schools, said the School Board would meet, likely behind closed doors, late Thursday afternoon to discuss whether to appeal the Development Review Board’s decision. He couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.