Northfield Selectwoman responds to trespassing allegations

  • Northfield town seal. Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

Recorder Staff
Tuesday, December 26, 2017

NORTHFIELD — Selectwoman Julia Blyth, one of three individuals accused of trespassing at the Mitchell gravel pit, has apologized for the Nov. 20 incident, which she described as resulting from miscommunication.

Though Kevin Parsons, an attorney representing Mitchell Aggregate LLC, has come before the Selectboard twice in the past month regarding the incident, Blyth had yet to respond. She said last Tuesday that she was attempting to follow legal advice by not addressing the issue in a public meeting, but couldn’t remain silent any longer.

Blyth said all three Selectboard members were invited on a site visit to the Mitchell gravel pit, located off Mount Hermon Station Road, by Building Inspector Jim Hawkins, who is responsible for zoning enforcement. Being available, Blyth was the only Selectboard member to attend.

“I was interested in attending because I was aware of possible non-compliance with the 2008 land court agreement, and I thought it was reasonable to be well-informed,” Blyth explained, referring to the agreement Northfield entered into with Mitchell outlining terms and conditions for operating the gravel pit. “I sincerely believed that we had permission to go there. I would not have attended if I believed we were trespassing.”

The possible non-compliance issues had been raised by the Greater Northfield Watershed Association, which wrote a letter to the Selectboard in August asking the board to look into its concerns and ensure the agreement was enforced. The organization worried property inspections and well monitoring reports weren’t being issued regularly, or in accordance with the 2008 agreement. The association also mentioned the June fire involving roughly 1,500 railroad ties, worrying that more railroad ties might be discarded there.

Accompanying Blyth to the gravel pit, Parsons explained previously, were Hawkins, Town Administrator Willie Morales and resident Jennifer Tufts. Blyth, Morales and Tufts were subsequently served with no trespass orders, he said.

“From my perspective, I was participating in an ordinary site visit that everyone was aware of, but there was clearly miscommunication, and I am deeply sorry for that,” she said.

Parsons previously claimed Hawkins had met with Mitchell prior to the trespassing incident without indicating any compliance problems.

By bringing Tufts, a member of the Greater Northfield Watershed Association’s board of directors and “someone who has been a perennial complainer against my client’s business for more than 10 years,” Parsons considered the Nov. 20 incident to have involved ethical conflicts. He alleged Blyth intended “to obviously support (the Greater Northfield Watershed Association’s) cause.” Blyth was formerly on the association’s board of directors, but said she wasn’t involved in drafting its August letter to the Selectboard.

When asked how Tufts and Morales came to be involved with the site visit, Blyth declined to comment.

Blyth apologized for the way the site visit went, and for her involvement, though both she and Andrew Vernon, president of the Greater Northfield Watershed Association, emphasized their desire to ensure Mitchell Aggregate comply with the 2008 agreement.

“It is still important to me, and to many residents of Northfield who I represent, that permit conditions are followed and that regular inspections are carried out in order to ensure compliance,” Blyth said. “I hope to gain clarity and better understanding of how this process should work in the future.”

“Maybe it has been smooth sailing for 10 years, but we haven’t been pushing some of these compliance issues, and that was our basic request from citizens: to take a closer look, make sure the court order was followed and to try to keep that continued,” Vernon explained. “We don’t think that’s an unfair request. It’s not a lemonade stand that’s being run over there, it’s a large operation. It deserves some oversight.”

During a Dec. 12 meeting that Blyth didn’t attend, Parsons asked that she “step up to the plate,” suggesting she have a conversation with his client Robert Mitchell Jr., owner of Mitchell Aggregate LLC, or resign from the Selectboard.

Blyth explained she was absent from the Dec. 12 meeting due to weather, and later said she would be happy to apologize to Mitchell for the misunderstanding, but does not intend to resign.