State Officials Play Hot Potato With Militia Training Ground

Okay, this is a disgrace.

VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld and Nina Keck have produced a whopper of a story that, among other things, outlines the state’s complete abdication of responsibility for investigating the Slate Ridge tactical shooting range and militia training facility in West Pawlet.

VTDigger first broke the story in November, detailing how many residents live in fear of Slate Ridge and its owner, Daniel Banyai. Digger also reported that concerned residents have tried repeatedly and failed to get any kind of enforcement or investigation of Slate Ridge or Banyai, despite his threatening behavior and criminal record.

The VPR story exposes quite a bit of new ground. The most egregious revelation: State authorities have played an energetic game of pass-the-buck regarding Slate Ridge, with the result that there is no investigation at all currently in progress. This, despite the fact that Banyai is openly flouting Act 250 rules. That’s pretty cut-and-dried, right? It shouldn’t be hard to get him on that.

Well, never underestimate the creativity of bureaucrats in avoiding a difficult task.

The state Natural Resources Board is the body that investigates possible violations of the land-use act. But the Board’s investigators are unarmed, and the Board’s associate general counsel Evan Meenan told VPR that those investigators are “not trained to deal with confrontational and potentially dangerous individuals.”

Understandable. So, more than two years ago, the NRB sought the help of the State Police. And got diddly-squat. Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling explained that “It’s unprecedented to use a law enforcement organization to investigate a land-use issue,” asserting that the VSP lacks the Act 250 expertise necessary to conduct such a probe.

Yeah, well, this situation is unprecedented, so maybe think outside the box a little?

The NRB also appealed to the Attorney General’s office. It got a response in December by way of Schirling, who wrote that the VSP and AGO “are aligned in our view that investigation and enforcement falls squarely in the NRB’s purview.”

So what you’re saying is if an Act 250 violator is sufficiently armed and dangerous, then enforcement is out the window. That’s one hell of a loophole!

There ought to be a way. If VSP doesn’t have the know-how to enforce Act 250, then maybe the brass could whomp up a joint investigation. Or even simpler, have state troopers accompany NRB personnel on a site visit.

Nope, nope, can’t do that. Apparently.

Well, if they can’t, they ought to be able to.

I don’t see how this can’t be resolved with a little interagency cooperation. But if they need specific enabling legislation for such a joint enterprise, let’s have the Legislature go to work on that.

Meanwhile, the residents of West Pawlet will continue to live in fear. And they are getting absolutely zilch from responsible state officials.


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