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The Times
  • Voted down, salt barn plan still raises ire in Newport

  • When a vote is taken, residents expect their voice to be heard.

    Yet late last year, the Newport Town Council purchased about 35 acres of land for a salt and sand shed — a proposal town residents in January 2011 voted down 346 to 220.

    Now, some want to know why.

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  • When a vote is taken, residents expect their voice to be heard.
    Yet late last year, the Newport Town Council purchased about 35 acres of land for a salt and sand shed — a proposal town residents in January 2011 voted down 346 to 220.
    Now, some want to know why.
    “When the taxpayers said no, (town officials) ignored all of us,” resident Carson Marko said. “That’s pretty upsetting.”
    Officials point to the fact they didn’t need approval to buy the land adjacent to the Newport town barn and town offices for about $100,000 because they didn’t raise taxes.
    Instead, they used reserved funds from the highway department and general fund.
    The issue began because a 30-foot pile of sand mixture sits beside the town barn, open to the elements. And with each heavy rain, the mixture runs into the adjacent property.
    To combat this, town Supervisor Michael McEvoy said the council wanted to purchase the land at 1 Newport Rd. and eventually build a shed to house the mixture.
    When the proposal was voted down 346 to 220 last year, McEvoy said they tried different measures to fix the runoff issue, including a silt fence. But nothing worked.
    Then a letter from the landowner of the adjacent property — James Balutis — in September gave an ultimatum: Start cleanup or reach a purchase agreement or face legal action.
    Salt is a contaminant for groundwater, especially when local groundwater is used for drinking, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation.
    In Newport, residents access water through wells.
    The town hired West Winfield engineer Ken Roberts to assess the issue.
    “They really needed to expand to protect their material and at the same time protect the property next door,” Roberts said, noting costs of clean up could have been more than $100,000.
    “Even if we cleaned the property, we didn’t solve the problem,” McEvoy said, adding runoff issue would have continued.
    Town officials considered taking only about six to eight acres of land necessary for a salt barn, but Balutis wouldn’t sell only a portion of the land because of the potential contamination issues.
    Balutis refused to comment on the matter, and referred questions to McEvoy.
    Without the opportunity for a referendum, the council unanimously passed a proposal for purchasing the land. “We were between a real big rock and a real hard place,” McEvoy said. “Time to get it in on a ballot was limited.”
    To date, McEvoy said there are no official plans for the land until they get funding.
    “The original plan still is to try to get some grant money to build a salt and sand barn,” he said, alluding to possible trails and other amenities for the rest of the land.
    Page 2 of 2 - Newport Town Highway Supervisor Jim Allen, who was hired this year, said he voted “no” during the public vote on purchasing the land. “I didn’t understand the situation as far as being next to the town barn and all the future use of the land,” he said. “If it would’ve been better explained, there would have been more agreeable taxpayers.”
    William Keiffer, former mayor for the village of Newport, said residents were kept in the dark about the plans. “They weren’t telling the public the truth as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “The way they went about it wasn’t right. They should let the people know what’s going on.”

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