Williamsburg board says ‘decorative’ porta-potties can stay

  • One of the “decorated” porta-potties at 17 Hyde Hill Road that is causing contention between neighbors in Williamsburg. Both have been painted bright orange. GAZETTE STAFF/FRAN RYAN

  • Two porta-potties and a metal statue of Donald Trump flank the Hyde Hill Road driveway of Chris Duval in Williamsburg. Gazette Staff/Fran Ryan

For the Gazette
Published: 8/22/2016 9:38:53 PM

WILLIAMSBURG — Two police officers stood outside a meeting room packed with about 20 residents Monday afternoon, ready to keep the peace should tempers rise at a Board of Health meeting where members unanimously agreed to take no action on two porta-potties located on the Hyde Hill Road property of Chris Duval.

The board had reached the same conclusion at a meeting earlier this month. Due to a clerical error in which the agenda for that meeting was not submitted to the town clerk, the board agreed to revisit the decision and to hear any new information that residents had to offer.

The issue of the porta-potties has been a contentious one between Duval and some of his neighbors. At previous meetings on the matter, tempers have flared to the point of disruption, prompting the board to request a police presence.

But the officers were not needed Monday as proceedings moved along quickly.

Henrietta Wallace of 21 Hyde Hill Road said she appreciated the board’s sincere apology for the clerical error and thanked them for revisiting the issue.

“I am not happy with this decision, of course,” Wallace said. “This is a very powerful board yet they seem so fearful of interacting with Mr. Duval that they just want to wash their hands of their obligations.”

While the porta-potties flank a driveway on Duval’s property, Wallace has an easement that allows her to use the driveway, as it is the only access to her home. She and others asked the board for help in getting the porta-potties removed.

Wallace and her attorney, Alan Seewald of Northampton, have cited a state law which states that “In no event may a privy be located within 30 feet of any building used for sleeping or eating or any lot line or street.”

Health Agent Valerie Bird at the beginning of the Monday meeting reiterated the board’s previous finding that the porta-potties are not in use, contain no chemicals, have no place to sit inside, have no urinals and are screwed shut and thus do not qualify as privies.

Bird said she was relying on the definition of privy from the state Department of Environmental Protection, which states that a privy is a “structure used for the disposal of human waste without water transport consisting of a shelter built over an unlined pit or vault in the ground into which waste is deposited.”

“This is not a privy. It is a sani-can or a chemical toilet, and the Board of Health does not regulate chemical toilets,” Bird said. “I have called around to other towns, and they don’t regulate chemical toilets either.”

Bird said that the town has no bylaws regarding the regulation of chemical toilets and that the empty sani-cans are not in violation of any town regulations.

“I think this board is being very arbitrary in their decision. If this was a car with its wheels off and up on blocks, wouldn’t it still be a car?” Jennifer Dormann of 25½ Hyde Hill Road said.

Dormann, who described herself as a newcomer to Williamsburg, said she has not been involved in the controversy and barely knew anyone at the meeting. “I just know what I see — two chemical toilets near the road I drive by every day,” she said.

Duval characterized the attempt to have him get rid of the porta-potties as an “epic fail” on the part of his neighbors and maintains that the structures are just “empty fiberglass shells” that he finds “decorative.”

The structures have been haphazardly spray painted in high-visibility orange paint, which some say resembles random graffiti.

“We like this stuff. It may be an eyesore, but it is not a health hazard,” Duval said. “If they are legal, they are going to stay there.”

Training for town boards

After discovery of the oversight in which the agenda for the Board of Health meeting was not submitted for posting, town officials have decided to help all those who volunteer for town boards to brush up on public meeting criteria.

According to Town Clerk Brenda Lessard, the town’s attorneys will hold a training in September for all boards to make sure members are well versed in meeting protocols and procedures.

“This way we know that everybody knows how to run a proper meeting and is in compliance with things like open meeting laws,” Lessard said.

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