What puzzles me is the fact that I seem to be one of very few who have a problem visualizing such a facility in our community right next to our crown jewel, Hamilton Reservoir. I hope that there is something I‘m missing here; otherwise a lot of complacent residents will have a rude awakening once confronted with the grim reality of the proposed truck stop.
The reader may help me understand why throughout the United States residential communities and their leaders are strongly opposed to accommodate truck stops near their homes, but not so in Holland. A truck stop will bring change to this area as never seen since the first settlers started trading with the Nipmuck Indians.
This report will try to answer some questions but will raise one question, the question why this community is not trying everything possible to prevent the truck stop from becoming a reality. I did extensive research on the impact such a truck stop has on the Environment, the Economy, the social life, and Traffic.
I found the following editorial by Frank Hogg on his web-page. Frank Hogg is a resident of Preble NY, a small town with a population of 1500 residents that successfully rejected the Flying J proposal to build a truck stop in their community.
*********************************************************************** Just Suppose, a lesson about how to get a big business into a small community.
Suppose you were a big company with “deep pockets” from a state like... oh say... Utah, and you wanted to bring your business into a small community. But there is a problem. Your business sucks and would be of no benefit to the small community. As a matter of fact your business would hurt the small community. How would you go about it?
You could send in an emissary to check out the town, find out who has the “power”, who controls things. See if they have done things in the past that might be a bit shady, like... oh... say... permit some building against the rules. Something like that.
You would then talk to that person and maybe give them a bit of money with the promise of a whole lot more when your company comes in. The amount you give in the beginning has to be just big enough; you don't want to spoil the person. Then you give more as the need arises. Then you announce that your company is coming to town.
Those that haven‘t been “influenced” by your generosity raise uproar. They have meetings, form groups, write letters. You let them. In time they will wear themselves out. Fight amongst themselves, destroying their town in the process. People in the group will give up and the group will get smaller and smaller. Soon, it may take a couple of years, the opposition is so small that you get your way and build your business in the little community.
Here is the best part. After you are all settled in, the person who did all your dirty work for you comes to get their “payoff” and guess what? You DON‘T pay them. You don‘t have to now... you're in! What are they going to do... complain? To who? About what? It's sweet isn‘t it? You've destroyed the community, but that is better for you because now you can expand and do anything you want without any opposition. All you have is one bitter person who didn‘t get their “payoff”. If you feel like it you can give them a little bit of what you promised. That“s up to you. After all... they don‘t have the “power” anymore... you do. And that's that! ***********************************************************************
Flying J has repeatedly been fined for fuel spills; the most recent fine I could find was issued by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller on December 18, 2008 for the March 2008 spill at the Clive, IA location that polluted Walnut Creek, and for the spill in Davenport IA, click here to read the report.
Another spill occurred in Waco Texas on February 29, 2008; another spill on May 9 2003, in Fargo SD polluting the red river and the drinking water of Moorhead SD. This incident happened six years ago but the incident is interesting as twenty-five EPA officials travelled to Fargo to attend a “lesson learned” meeting on August 13, 2003, regarding the spill that occurred just a few months earlier. Just outside the meeting location, construction was underway on a new Stamart convenience store at the site of the earlier spill. Unaware of its contamination, workers had begun pumping water out of the ground around buried gas storage tanks in preparation for moving them. After the conclusion of the day‘s meeting, EPA officials walking to a local restaurant noticed a hose discharging water from the Stamart property and detected the odor of diesel fuel.
The flying J spill on May 9 2003 occurred when more than 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel was released from a punctured fuel line. The spill was discovered by employees of the truck stop. Fuel may have been released when employees pumped rain water out of the recovery wells, which are designed to detect contamination. Rain carried the fuel to the Red River, subsequently forcing the shutdown of the Fargo and Moorhead water plants for two weeks. Click here to read the EPA report.
Five district attorneys from California filed jointly a complaint against Flying J for alleged failure to properly train employees, alleged failure to inspect underground storage tanks, alleged disabling of leak sensors and thereby endangering the public health of several communities. Click here to read the complaint. Click here to read the news story.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fined Flying J for polluting drinking water for the town of Denver CO. The Proposed Order and Penalty Complaint stated under par. 15: "The wells penetrate underground sources of drinking water (USDWs) including, but not limited, to groundwater in, the Green River Formation from ground surface to approximately 2804 feet below surface." click here to read the complaint. These “accidents” are not uncommon and the reader may not know that the town of Sturbridge filed a complaint against Mobil, Atlantic Richfield and Shell, alleging town wells were contaminated with MTBE from leaking tanks. Sturbridge v. Mobil Oil Corp., No.4:01 CV 40019, Mass. Dist. Ct., Worcester County (filed Feb. 6, 2001). The suit was settled for $1.5 million. Charlton, which has dealt with serious water contamination issues for years stemming from the gas station of the rest area on the Massachusetts Turnpike, received $1.8 million in a settlement, according to Town Administrator Robin L. Craver. The class action suit involved 17 states and 153 water districts, with awards totaling $423 million before deduction of substantial legal fees and expenses.
At one point in time wise leaders of our town, the town of Holland, suggested to create a special conservancy district towards exit 74 of I 84. They recognized the importance to protect this watershed and tributary brook and the voters agreed. There was a good reason for zoning said locus “special conservancy,” the area is extremely sensitive for our ground water supply and Hamilton reservoir. The zoning bylaws of the town of Holland defines under article 6.2 the “special conservancy” district, and under article 6.21, Purpose:
“To conserve the unique landscape, wetland and ecological features, and high quality groundwater associated with the land in this district by limiting multi unit development to low density institutional, educational and recreational uses.”
With the promise of lower property taxes our “leaders” push the community into agreement with their hideous selfserving plan to build of all things a truck stop.
Hundreds of idling trucks and million of gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel pumped 24/7 out of huge underground tanks will pollute the air we breathe, the water we drink and the lakes we love. Not only does it not make any sense, it is a crime. I do not understand why our selectmen Johnson and Wettlaufer are in favor of such a truck stop. Perhaps they have another reason that we don‘t know about.
During the last controversy, the tax levy override, the selectboard and others were quick to argue that property values would decline if the override
did not pass. Here are a few examples of these fear mongering statements:
“He (Wettlaufer) noted that reducing such services would have a negative effect on town property values and security.” Tantasqua Town Common, issue of January 17, 2008.
Andrew Harhay (member of the Holland finance committee):
“And if severe cuts in Highway maintenance and public safety and education wouldn‘t be harmful enough, not approving the override would eventually reduce our home values, which for most of us is our greatest asset,” Tantasqua Town Common issue of January 31, 2008. Mr. Harhay, don‘t you think it would have been appropriate to reveal to the readers the fact that you are a member of the finance committee?
Margaret R. Lowell:
“These cuts to town budgets cause a ripple effect; basic services suffer, property values decrease, people search for a more attractive community to reside, resulting in the town sinking further into the red. No one wants to pay more in taxes, but I urge the voters in Holland to educate themselves as to the pros and cons of these extremely important ballot questions. Please consider voting yes.” Sturbridge Villager issue of February 1st 2008.
The outcome of the override vote showed a clear disconnect between the intentions of the selectboard, and that what the voters of Holland thought is best for them.
Would you rather live in a town right next to a truck stop with the pollution, crime, and traffic consistent with a truck stop or a town without a truck stop and lower taxes? Do you think that “well to do” professionals will find it appealing to spend weekends right next to a truck stop? Do you think that property values of weekend homes right next to a truck stop will decline or increase?
But it is the property taxes of weekend homes and homes of summer residents that provide a boost to the tax revenues. These homes are prevalent on and around Hamilton Reservoir. While the owners of these homes pay higher taxes due to the higher value of their homes, they do not burden the town‘s budget as their children if there are any visit schools somewhere else. This is an advantage that our town enjoys without negative impacts, unless you are bothered by the fact that most lakefront homes are unoccupied most of the time while they pay property taxes 365 days a year.
It is correct that the owners of the truck stop would pay property taxes. The question is whether the increase of taxes would not be wiped-out by the decrease of taxes due to the negative impact a truck stop will have on the value of these lakefront Homes. It is fair to assume that Holland would lose some of its appeal as weekend and vacation destination. Homes used as second homes would change owners and be used as year-round homes with its known impact on the rising cost of the educational system.
What will this truck stop really bring in in the form of tax-revenues to the town of Holland? Is it worth it to sacrifice the quality of life we are used to? I honestly think absolutely not, and here is why:
What I hear is that the Sturbridge voters will decide a ballot question to rezone the 109.4 acre part of land on their territory from rural residential to commercial after the Planning Board already approved the change to the zoning bylaws of Sturbridge.
However, the Sturbridge zoning bylaw does not allow truck stops in commercially zoned land; The 19.4 acre parcel located in Union has the advantage of being the closest to the Interstate exit and will therefore be the most valuable site. Hotels, Restaurants, a Welcome Center, and possibly some Stores will be built on the Union property according to an article published on January 20, 2009, in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
What is left for Holland?? That‘s right, the ugly truck stop.
According to selectman Wettlaufer, the entire project will cost $15 million to $25 million, all taxable. The question is, how much of the $15 million to $25 million are spent in Holland. What will be more expensive to build, Hotels, Restaurants, a Travel Center and some Stores, or to pave about 30 acres, build an ugly building where trucks are maintained and install a few underground tanks and pumps?
Here a few numbers:
The PILOT truck stop in Sturbridge is assessed at $4,819,400. This number includes the large travel center building with its restaurants, shops, arcades, and the gas station for passenger cars. Even though the travel center has been closed for years the town of Sturbridge is still getting taxes on that building. The taxes for the entire truck stop with all the buildings last year was $74,411. This number does not include vacant land PILOT bought recently.
As I outlined above, I do believe that Holland will only get the ugly truck stop and no travel center, restaurant, hotel, etc. The property taxes will be smaller than the property taxes paid by PILOT to the town of Sturbridge. But even if Holland will get an amount in the neighborhood of $75,000, our property taxes will most likely go up and not down as promised. If only 10 homes change ownership from weekend/second home owner to year-round primary home owner and the year-round owners living in these homes have combined eight school age children, you, the taxpayer of Holland will be paying more taxes. Each school age child cost $9,755 to the taxpayer, (FY2007). Multiply that number by 8 and you have an additional expense of $78,040, whiping-out the tax-advantage a truck stop would bring.
I would like to reiterate that I'm in favor of education and that I also know that the town of Holland spends less than state average on education per pupil. I could be off with my prediction; it could end up much worse. Are you willing to take a chance? Once the truck stop is built, it will be too late.
The location of the existing PILOT truck stop in Sturbridge is ideal. In between the east bound and west bound traffic of Interstate 84 it is far away form any residences. Just behind the PILOT truck stop is already an 81 room Hotel, the Travelodge that is only occupied at an average of 10% to 15%.
Here are a few other numbers from Flying J documents published in connection with the proposed truck stop in Peoria NY. That truck stop was planned to take up 17 acres. The proposed central building was planned to be 14,067 square foot in size.
The estimated property taxes Flying J was going to pay the town of Peoria NY were $11,292.
This is the annual number, not a weekly or monthly number. I personally pay more than half that and I do not own one truck!! Earl Johnson and James Wettlaufer, Planning Board, and Zoning Board of Appeals, are all of you nuts?? click here, to read the piece with the mentioned numbers. Not an impressive number by any means.
Let‘s assume that Flying J would spend $10 million on the Holland site (I do believe it will not even be half of that amount) and the average house will lose 3% of it‘s value because of the fact that we have a truck stop in town, the tax revenue would stay the same despite the property taxes paid by Flying J Inc. The total assessed value of the town of Holland is $353 million. If the value of the average house declines just 3% and Flying J would spend $10 million on construction in Holland the taxes for the truck stop would just substitute for the losses in taxes due to the declining total value of the town. This is just an approximation as the commercial tax rate is somewhat higher than the residential tax rate. However, these numbers show that the promised payout the truck stop should bring according to the selectboard is misconceived.
Don‘t be surprised if you don‘t get the promised break on your tax bill once the truck stop is built and you instead rub fenders with trucks while inhaling a blue cloud of exhaust fumes instead of fresh air on your way to and from I 84 and Union. How Wettlaufer can see the Flying J proposal as “a vast improvement on what sits there today - a parking lot,” is unconscionable to me. See Worcester Telegram and Gazette issue of February 1st, 2009. Wettlaufer further stated: “We need revenue for this town and if Flying J is coming in and this is what they want to do, it‘s an actual improvement on the property that they‘re looking at.”
Dear Mr. Wettlaufer, truck stops are parking lots with pump-stations and ugly buildings to maintain trucks. The parking lot which is already there will get much bigger. How can that be an improvement?
Wettlaufer: “It wouldn‘t be my first choice. I would much rather see somebody come in with a clean industry to put in there or distribution center or movie theater. None of us want to see a truck stop come in, but, if you‘re going to have one, at least have the best there is.”
On some level, select man Wettlaufer does not seem to miss the point all together. Wettlaufer finally refers to the truck stop no longer as a “ travel center, ” as that will be built in another town. That is a good sign.
However, he still puts lipstick on the pig by calling it “the best [truck stop] there is..” Why the best? The best because there is no other truck stop in such a pristine setting in the entire U.S.? I do agree, a garbage dump next to a nice lake looks better than a garbage dump on the outskirts of cities in New Jersey, cities such as Elisabeth, Newark or Jersey City.
In financially difficult times as we are experiencing right now, I would rather live with fewer services but still be able to drink tab water and breathe fresh air and drive around town without traffic jams caused by 18 wheelers.
Why can‘t we have just one police officer as we had up to a few years ago to save money? If the truck stop becomes a reality, the town of Holland will not have a choice any longer. A truck stop is a 24/7 operation with an immense influx of transient people which will bring many unwanted social problems to our community. Foremost, don‘t be surprised if you will pay higher taxes despite the truck stop.
Other towns rejected Flying J proposals to build a truck stop with the same arguments. Here a few:
Preble, NY (population 1500), click here to read about Preble‘ successful fight to prevent a truck stop from being built.
Saugatuck, MI (population 1000), the truck stop was rejected despite the fact that the facility was planned a few miles away from town and on the opposite side of the highway), click here to read about Saugatuck. Here is more about Saugatuck.
Reno NV, click here to read comments.
Dixon, CA. The voters rejected the Flying J proposal. A comprehensive Environmental Impact Report identified among other significant impacts the need for additional wastewater treatment capacity. I don't have any idea how our leaders would solve the problem of wastewater. Click here, to read the Environmental Impact Report.
New Haven Indiana, click here, to se the complaint Flying J filed against the Zoning Board of Appeals of the town of New Haven.
Here is a report on a truck stop that was actually built in Pembroke, NY: click here to read about the Flying J in Pembroke.
Try the Google search (“flying j” prostitution), you must use the quotation marks before and after Flying J as this will search for the exact string of characters, this search yields 1110 hits; the Google search (“flying j” narcotics) yields 1030 hits.
Here is a excerpt from a Court decision:
As a patrol officer, the defendant [Johnson] often took women into custody who were suspected of prostitution. Rather than charging the women, he [Johnson] would engage in oral and/or vaginal sex with them. [...] The defendant [Johnson] arrived at Ms. C.‘s room to investigate. He instructed the “John” to accompany him into the hallway. The witness then went on to tell what occurred: He [Johnson, the defendant] wanted me to explain how I met the young lady in the hotel room. I told him that a friend of mine told me that you can meet girls at the Flying J that they were easy to pick up and so forth and so on. I told him that I made contact, eye contact, with the young lady in the parking lot area. The next thing we know, we were here at the hotel room. He further asked me how much money was involved. I told him $40.00 for oral sex. Com. v. Johnson, 910 A.2d 80 (2006).
Truck drivers sometimes spend as much as 25 days of the month on the road, with CB radios and TVs their only company and cell phones their lifeline to a world they drive through and supply with goods. Drivers resort to drugs to stay awake, coffee doesn‘t do the trick for some extreme trips. Methamphetamine is known as an addictive stimulant that results in increased wakefulness and physical activity and at the same time decreases appetite. It is a lonely job and prostitution is rampant. Prostitution is not the only problem plaguing truck stops. The Google search ("Flying J” larceny) yields 813 hits; the search (“Flying J” assault) 4060 hits; you can do this with any term you want. Try for instance the search ("gasoline spill" "Flying J").
Flying J is also on Wikipedia.
*********************************************************************** Here another editorial by Frank Hogg:
We are put on this earth to reproduce, prosper and leave it better than we found it. There are those in our society who believe that the acumination of money and/or power equals success. Neither of those leaves a mark on the world that one could be proud of. I pity those who are so short sighted that the reduction of taxes, in other words making money, is and should be their only goal in life. I would rather leave this world with no mark at all, than the oil stain that would be left if Flying J succeeded in coming here. To those whose vision does not extend beyond their wallets I have nothing to say, but to those who are concerned about this planet and the air we all breathe and the water we all drink I feel that what we do here is a good thing. We put a finger in the dike of the onslaught of power and greed over common sense. However, the onslaught is still there, the dike is holding but we must be ever diligent, ever wary of those whose only god is green money, whose only concern is selfish greed, who views their neighbor as a profit center rather than a human being. Our fight is noble and worthy and must and will continue until we have protected our homes and our children from those greedy and selfish few. *********************************************************************** The “dike” Frank Hogg is writing about in his editorial is not even up yet here in Holland, it may never will. If there is interest to get organized and file a petition for a change in the bylaws please contact me. I can‘t prevent it by myself.
Other posts on this subject:
Ignorance by the taxpayer will be costly.
Petition against Truck Stop, take two.
Petition against proposed Truck Stop.
IT IS NEVER TO LATE!
Sturbridge Voters Not As Smart As Holland Voters?