Concerned, confused, annoyed-- it was a passionate Act 250 hearing in Shoreham Friday for WhistlePig Whiskey.
"Emotions are high. You have a titanic lunatic with a budget who's abusing the time of everyone here," said Raj Bhatka, who owns WhistlePig.
The company currently bottles whiskey from Canada, but plans to build a distillery to produce whiskey on-site. Bhatka's neighbors, George Gross and Barbara Wilson, who own a small organic berry farm called Solar Haven Farm, have voiced concerns about potential traffic, noise and black fungal growth or BFG, which can be produced from ethanol in the fermentation and whiskey-aging process.
"We believe the ethanol could be a potential source of mold on our crop," Gross said.
"I'm sure you're not going to buy moldy raspberries," Wilson said.
Both parties brought in expert witnesses to testify on the effects of potential fungal growth. Both agree it poses minimal health risks. The main concern is esthetics.
Reporter Gina Bullard: Are you worried about BFG?
Raj Bhatka: Not at all. This is a bugaboo issue.
Bhatka says he's spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting his neighbors on this issue, and his neighbors say they've spent tens of thousands.
"In an attempt to work through the rules, there are ample loopholes for malcontent and slightly insane neighbors with a budget to slow things down," Bhatka said.
"It makes me sad because I'm far from rich. I used money I saved from retirement to put into this," Wilson said. "What choice do I have?"
Wilson and Gross say they just want WhistlePig to follow the rules and have its ethanol emissions regulated.
"It's not our intention to stop WhistlePig," Gross said. "We want them to be compliant with the law and respect the community and neighbors they have."
"What are we supposed to do? Chew walnuts and live in caves so he can invite friends from New Jersey to look at the locals living in penury? It's madness," Bhatka said.
"Even a whiskey distillery can have potential big impacts on the environment and that's what it's all about," said Geoff Green, the District 9 Environmental Commission coordinator.
If the environmental commission decides BFG is a threat to WhistlePig's neighbors, the company could be denied a permit to distill its own whiskey.
WhistlePig is in the process of getting all of the correct permits it needs from the state and town. A decision on the Act 250 permit will be finalized by next week.