On a recent afternoon, the sun shone on a property on Gilman Road in Hinesburg. From the roadway, at least three cars were visible behind a stand of trees and vegetation, and beyond them, a collapsed house was just in view. 477 Gilman Road has become a challenge for the Town, as neighbors contend the property is overrun with rats that have ventured across property lines and invaded their homes.
The August 17, 2017 Hinesburg Selectboard meeting included a discussion of what to do about the troubled property, owned by Sheridan Lane. A collapsed house on the property, as well as abandoned vehicles and tall grass, all provide habitat for rats, Hinesburg Health Officer Kent Fraser noted in an interview. A Health Order issued in April 2016 contained seven requirements for Lane to address on her property; Fraser explained to the Board at the August meeting that “she’s not compliant with six of them.”
Despite the fact that the property has been on the Town’s radar for over two years, Fraser said that rats continue to roam the property. The Charbonneaus, a neighboring family, had reported that baits on their property are still being consumed; Gail Decker, another neighbor, had recently found a rat in her garage, Fraser said.
Lane’s property first came to the Town’s attention in August 2015, when then-Hinesburg health officer Joe Gannon met with resident Lucas Charbonneau, of 601 Gilman Road, regarding an odor complaint Charbonneau made in relation to a neighbor’s property. According to a 2016 Notice of Intent to issue a Health Order, during this initial visit Gannon spotted garbage and several abandoned vehicles on the property at 477 Gilman Road. Charbonneau added that multiple rats had also been seen around the property. Gannon’s notice also stated that the home on the property was not livable at that point as it was completely collapsed. Though Gannon did not feel a health order was needed at the time, he did note several zoning violations.
By the following January, Katie Charbonneau was again in touch with Gannon to report that she’d found a rat in her daughter’s bedroom, according to Gannon’s notice. In a registered letter to Lane, dated Jan. 18, 2016, Gannon detailed concerns including the lack of septic facilities or a habitable structure on the property, as well as the rats spreading onto the Charbonneaus’ land and the “large amount of trash” on Lane’s property.
According to Gannon’s 2016 notice, a total of three letters were sent – one registered letter and two by regular mail – all with no response. The registered letter waited at the post office until it was finally returned, unread, to the Town, Gannon’s notice said.
The Hinesburg Selectboard meeting of Jan. 25, 2016 included a convening of the town Public Board of Health to discuss the matter, with the group agreeing that Gannon should continue his attempts to reach Lane and inspect the property.
Gannon was finally able to contact Lane in Feb. 2016, and in March, Lane came to Town Hall where she met with Gannon and then-Town Manager Trevor Lashua; the meeting resulted in an agreement to bring in extermination company Terminix, per Gannon’s notice. Following a visit to the property later that month, Terminix employee Tom Comay related to Gannon that the property must be fenced, and poisoned baits placed, at a cost of $1200 per month, the notice stated.
Based on the conditions of the property, Gannon determined that a public health risk existed, leading to the 2016 Notice of Intent to Issue a Health Order. Lane appeared at the April 4, 2016 selectboard meeting, as did her concerned neighbors. The Board of Health again convened, and Gannon read aloud the Health Order’s requirements.
Lane noted before those assembled at the meeting that she had contacted an exterminator of her own and planned to move forward with the cleanup. “I want to apologize, but I really don’t see [the rats],” Lane said. “I’m not saying they’re not there, don’t get me wrong.” She added, “I don’t want to put it off.”
Neighbors Katie and Lucas Charbonneau, seated nearby, also spoke at the April 2016 selectboard meeting. Lucas noted that at the time, they’d already spent over $500 trying to rid their property of rats. Katie added, “It’s hard for us because I’ve had to move my daughter’s bedroom. I’m pregnant, clearly, and I literally almost got bit by a rat in my daughter’s bedroom.” She also described coyotes running around the family’s yard, chasing rats.
The Health Order followed on April 14, 2016. The Order detailed the problems on Lane’s property, including trash on the property that had not been removed “for perhaps years and this has accumulated to the point of becoming a public health nuisance in a number of ways: as food and cover for a large number of rats and other creatures, as a source of foul-odors that impinge on her immediate neighbor to the SW, particularly in warm weather, and as ‘run-off’ into the La Platte River, that is adjacent to her property and much lower: i.e. everything on the property drains into the brook.”
The Health Order’s seven requirements included hiring an exterminator to deal with the overabundance of rats; removing garbage once the rats had been brought under control; getting rid of the abandoned vehicles and boarding up or removing the collapsed house; and bringing in a “porta-potty” to provide for sanitary needs.
By the August 18, 2016 selectboard meeting, Gannon was again before the board to report that vehicles remained on the property, the building continued to collapse, and while garbage had been gathered into a large dumpster, the dumpster continued to sit, unemptied, on the property. The dumpster was eventually removed in Sept. 2017.
Asked this month why the cleanup appears to be taking such a long time, new Town Administrator Renae Marshall noted that the process is complex, with activity taking place behind the scenes and protocols that must be followed.
The Board next plans to issue a new Health Order and file it with Vermont Superior Court – an action not taken with the previous Health Order. An order with the Court’s weight behind it can have financial consequences, Fraser said. He has been consulting with a number of colleagues in neighboring towns and state agencies; at the August 17, 2017 selectboard meeting, Marshall noted that the town attorney will also be involved in the discussion.
Attempts to reach Lane for comment on this story were not successful. Fraser, who as of last week had last been in contact with Lane in early September, noted this month that Lane continues to live on the property, apparently in a shed. Per Fraser, the porta-potty on the property is emptied regularly.