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Pawlet 'Satisfied' With Ruling Against Slate Ridge, But Compliance Is An Open Question

Blue sky over a gate with a street sign reading slate ridge dr
Nina Keck
/
VPR File
Last Friday, an environmental court judge ordered Slate Ridge owner Daniel Banyai to permanently shut down his military style training facility in Pawlet and pay more than $46,000 in fines.

An environmental court judge last Friday ordered Slate Ridge owner Daniel Banyai to permanently shut down his military style training facility in Pawlet and pay more than $46,000 in fines.

Neighbors to the facility have been calling for state officials to crack down on the unlicensed buildings on Banyai’s property since 2017. Banyai has responded to neighbors with thinly veiled threats.

VPR’s Henry Epp spoke with attorney Merrill Bent, who represented the town of Pawlet in this case. Their interview is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Henry Epp: So, does this ruling fulfill everything that Pawlet residents were seeking in this case?

Merrill Bent: Well, I think the ruling fulfills what the town's prerogative was in terms of the zoning bylaws that it has to enforce. Whether the residents of Pawlet are completely satisfied, you’d have to ask them.

I think there were other issues that people were concerned about that fall outside of the zoning regulations and outside of the town's authority in terms of zoning. But the town is satisfied with the outcome of the environmental court case in terms of enforcement of its zoning mandate.

"So, the onus is no longer on the town to ensure compliance. The onus is on Mr. Banyai to prove compliance with the court's order." - Attorney Merrill Bent

Daniel Banyai does not have a track record of complying with orders from state officials, which the judge noted in this decision. So, can you tell us how might this ruling be enforced now?

Well, the ruling is written in such a way that it sets out the process for the next steps that need to take place. And it has benchmarks that need to be met and they need to be met by Mr. Banyai. So, the onus is no longer on the town to ensure compliance. The onus is on Mr. Banyai to prove compliance with the court's order.

More from VPR: Despite Act 250 Complaints, 'No One Is Actively Investigating' Slate Ridge Shooting Range

So, the first step is to engage the services of a land surveyor to make a complete plan of the property and all the improvements on the property. And then after, once that's complete, to submit that to the court. After that, Mr. Banyai has been ordered to actually remove the structures for which there is no permit currently on record.

So, the compliance aspect of this is going to be following that process and it will be up to the court to determine what to do in the event that compliance is not forthcoming.

In terms of your client, the town of Pawlet, I mean, have they raised concerns at all about the potential for Mr. Banyai not to comply here?

Well, I think everybody knows that is a possibility. But like I said, the court has given a certain amount of time to go through this process. So, we're just going to have to go through that timeframe and see what happens.

Do you have confidence that Vermont law enforcement officials are up to the task of making sure that Mr. Banyai pays these fines and destroys the unauthorized buildings, as the court has ordered?

Well, I think that there is authority for doing so. How that's going to be carried out in the event of noncompliance remains to be seen.

Mr. Banyai has not yet appealed this ruling, but there are several more weeks for him to do so if he chooses, according to the court. Do you expect, beyond this case, for there to be further litigation over Slate Ridge?

There very well could be. I think an appeal is a possibility. That's standard. And in Vermont, the immediate appeal is to the Vermont Supreme Court and then there could be further litigation in the event of noncompliance as well.

More From VPR News: 'Everyone's So Afraid Of Daniel Banyai': VTDigger Editor On Slate Ridge Investigation

And I mean, do you expect from your side, from the town of Pawlet, for the town or residents of the town, to seek any further legal remedies in this case?

Well, I can't speak to other residents of the town; I only represent the town itself. And again, it just depends on how the process for compliance is carried out in the next couple of months.

VPR reached out to Daniel Banyai.  In a brief phone call, he said that he had “no comment” on the ruling.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Henry Epp @TheHenryEpp.

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