Sweet Deal? Maple Producer to Tap Town Forest

Northfield Trails and Maps   TrailLink

On February 12th, a Barre-based commercial maple producer, Turkey Hill Maple, self-reported an error in setting up part of their operations on the Northfield Forest, which of course is public property.  Owners Judith and Howard Anderson wrote in a letter to the town:

“About a week ago we found out we over-reached our line system to include a few trees that belong to the town.  …I think we misread the map and delineation of property lines.  To confirm that, our installer met with the Surveyor yesterday that produced the Town Maps years ago.  I’m wondering if it is possible to get a temporary lease for at least this year to tap those trees in return for payment to the town.”

The Andersons emphasized that no trees had been tapped — however, the tubing running from tree to tree had already been installed.

How far did they overreach the boundary into the Town Forest?  About 20 acres and enough trees to provide 1500-2000 taps.

Town Manager Jeff Schulz raised concern that the value of the trees might be reduced should any be damaged in the tapping process.  He also noted that he found no examples of such arrangements on public land elsewhere.

The Selecboard discussed the request on February 23rd (prior to my term on the Board) and voted 4-0 authorizing the Town Manager to negotiate a lease agreement with Turkey Hill Farm, contingent on a forester’s report and proof of liability insurance.

I learned about the maple tapping request on March 4th, the Friday before my first meeting in my 3-year term on the Selectboard.  A follow-up discussion about the deal was on the agenda.

When I read the agenda and materials, I wondered if the folks on the Conservation Committee knew about the proposal.  The Town Forest is part of the Committee’s scope of work, so it seemed as if they should be informed.  In a brief phone conversation with Committee Chair, Pam Knox, said, No, they knew nothing about sap lines being strung or trees which were ready to tap.

At the March 8th Selectboard meeting, I raised questions about the amount of property which had been encroached, the proposed $1 price per tap for a 10-year contract and the lack of policy regarding commercial use of public property.  My fellow members replied that they had already given an approval to Turkey Hill Maple.  The contract, however, had not yet been signed.  I asked if any other maple producers knew of the agreement or if the Selectboard had contacted the Conservation Committee.  The answer was, “No,” to both.

The rationale for the go-ahead came from three members, with four distinct responses:

  1. The trees were already set to be tapped and a vote to remove tubing would cost Turkey Hill Maple a lot of money.
  2. The opportunity to generate long-term revenue on land “not being used” would be good for the budget.
  3. One member said he knew the installer and attested to his personal integrity and quality of work.
  4. Another member asserted the tapping of trees couldn’t harm high value trees.

However, the Conservation Committee offered observations and provided suggestions in a letter submitted to the Board:

“After doing some quick research, we found that there are apparently some towns that have opened up their forests for this type of activity, but only after they have put in place effective policies.  In developing a policy, the town’s residents should be asked to provide input as to whether this is a use that is in keeping with their goals and vision for the Town Forest. …Policies may include a fair bidding process, a lease, and agreed upon details as to how and where the activity should take place.”

The letter went on to say that the value of the lease should be $1-$2 per tap.

So this has been an interesting subject.  For me, I have to say my concern isn’t about whether or not the town should lease its trees for maple production, or what a policy should look like.

My primary concern is about a huge mistake over property boundaries.

Imagine you owned a piece of land somewhere out in the back-forty which you never used, except to maybe walk through from time to time.

Now imagine someone approached you, saying, “Oops, I ran my sugaring operation onto 20 acres of your property by mistake.  Can we sign a lease?”

What would you think?

 

7 thoughts on “Sweet Deal? Maple Producer to Tap Town Forest”

  1. Hi Nate,
    Thanks for running for selectboard, congratulations on your win and great job with your first blog. Interesting problem, but one that does offer some opportunities that we should take advantage of. Here are a few thoughts:

    ~Big mistake on the part of the sugarmakers, but I appreciate that they came forward and took responsibility for their mistake.
    ~This needs to have a short term and long term solution.
    ~Short term solution to accommodate the sugarmakers for this year with no strings attached for the future for them or the town.
    ~Long term solution should spell out the specific guidelines for leasing this land in the future for this purpose or other similar purpose.
    ~The Conservation Commission should make recommendations to the selectboard as to this policy.
    ~The real key is that the procedure for leasing in the future is fair for any who have an interest in leasing land for similar purposes.

    Hope this helps,
    Peter

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  2. I saw that discussed at the last Select. meeting. If in fact what you state in your blog and what transpired between parties is accurate and correct then I see a big problem. I could be wrong. That village forest was left to the people of northfield by the town fathers for us to enjoy by use of walking, biking, hiking, etc. I don’t believe I have ever heard any noise regarding that land used in ways such as leasing out, agricultural (sugaring), or manufacturing to name a few. I have understood that the select. board does not allow any motorized bikes, atvs’s, skidoos, etc. run on these lands. This raises the question of what sort of vehicles or machinery is the Turkey Hill Maple company using on that virgin land? Doesn’t seem fair to me as a user of the public land. Not right.

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  3. How did a temporary lease for at least this year turn into ten years? Seems like it ought to go out to bid to be fair…but perhaps the town wouldn’t get any better deal than this anyway…

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  4. I am a small hobby producer on my own land just across the hill from the town forest. Having put up lines for 200+ taps on 4 acres, I can’t imagine putting up lines for 2000 taps on 20 acres I d0 not own. They could not find a single old fence line or other clue they were not on their land? I appreciate the owners coming forward, but this is not just oooops!

    It’s not just stringing lines. Trees get cut out of the way and logging roads are opened up again. This is a steep hillside; water bars get damaged from vehicle access and need to be maintained or erosion occurs. I know this is not virgin forest, it has been cut multiple times since Northfield was founded. It is a resource for the entire town of Northfield. Tapping does not hurt the trees, but many sawmills don’t like to process tapped wood because of the fear of running into old hardware.

    I do not like the idea of a 10 year lease after the fact. I am very sympathetic, but this is Town land and we should have a policy that every one can agree to. How about a 1 year lease at $2/tap. And then in the summer the Town can have the discussion of what is the best use for the land including how much, if any, land should be leased for sugarmaking. If the Town agrees then let Andersons negotiate a longer term lease, including provisions for inspection by the Washington County forester so that the Town can be assured that the forest is being well managed and of course removal of the tubing after they are done.

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  5. Thanks for your blog here Nate.

    The issue of cost of removing the lines is not something we should feel a concern for. That is the maple producers concern. The cost to remove those lines will be the same this year as it will in any future year. The lines stay there strung from tree to tree all year-round. Do we want that 20 acres to be that way all the time? Does the maple producer use forbidden vehicles to maintain the lines?
    We all own that forest.

    Just putting it out there.

    Bill

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  6. I could understand going over the Town Forest Line a few feet but 20 acres??? That is a Huge Oops!! This is the first year this has happened? Has any Town Official been to inspect what has been done? If any trees have been cut, brush removed, trails have been made? This is The Town’s Forest with guidelines already in place and none have to do with sugaring. A lot of questions need to be addressed before any type of lease is given and it should be the decision of the voters.

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