Temple denies maple sugaring contract on town land

  • Town of Temple Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Ben's Sugar Shack owner Ben Fisk plans to consolidate his operations to a new facility on a lot along Route 101 in Temple. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 2/3/2021 5:17:22 PM

Temple’s Conservation Commission decision not to enter a contract allowing Ben Fisk to harvest maple sap from the Temple Town Forest was upheld after Fisk brought his objection to the Select Board and was heard at their Monday night meeting.

Fisk currently has 50 active taps set up on the town land on North Road, which the Conservation Commission agreed to let him keep using until the end of the current sugaring season. Fisk got on the Select Board’s Monday night agenda, which was scheduled specially to discuss the postponement of Town Meeting and voting, after he asked to get on the Jan. 26 meeting agenda but was skipped after a Board member forgot to mention him, Select Board Chair Ken Caisse said.

At the meeting, Fisk asked for the Conservation Commission’s rationale in denying his proposed contract and said his purpose at the meeting was to look out for the interests of other agricultural operations in town. Select Board member Bill Ezell told other Board members that the Conservation Commission, not the Select Board, have been the designated managers of Temple’s town forests since 1978 and that therefore, the item wasn’t in the Select Board’s purview. That ended the Board’s involvement in the issue, Caisse said.

The town forest is under a conservation easement, Conservation Commission chair Scott Hecker said, and management is focused on conservation and encouraging public use of the property. “You can’t have maple syrup tap lines running across trails,” with those goals, Hecker said, and that the Commission has received a number of complaints from hikers and equestrians who encountered lines across walking trails over the years, despite Fisk specifically agreeing to remove the lines where they crossed post-sugaring season when he was first granted permission to tap the land in 2008.

The Conservation Commission had other unsatisfactory experiences related to Fisk’s use of the land, which Hecker detailed in a letter to the Select Board upon learning the issue made it onto their agenda.

“It is important to note that a contract permitting Ben’s Sugar Shack to tap maple trees in the Town Forest expired on December 31, 2018 and was not renewed at that time due to a generally unsatisfactory relationship between the parties during the prior 5-year contract,” the letter read. Conservation Commission minutes detail problems including increasing the number of taps on the property without permission, tap lines crossing the walking trails, and failure to remove the obstructive tap lines in a timely manner, Hecker wrote. 

The five-year contract, which was in place from 2014 through the end of 2018, stipulated that Fisk pay an annual fee of $582.50 for using the land, which was calculated at 50 cents for each of the 1,165 taps on the property at that point. “According to the Town’s receipt book only one payment was ever received on August 19, 2014 at the commencement of the 5-year contract.  The annual rental fee of $582.50 was never paid again and left a balance owed to the Town of $2,330,” Hecker wrote.

Temple resident Honey Hastings suggested that Fisk pay the 50 cents per tap for use of the 50 taps in place for this season at the Monday meeting, a total of $25 which  Fisk said he would be “more than happy to pay.”

In 2019, the Conservation Commission discovered large amounts of trash tubing in the woods while making improvements to the town forest trails, along with 50 remaining active taps on the property, Hecker said. Fisk agreed to remove the trash tubing when asked in April 2020, as the amount of tubing required a truck to haul away, Hecker said, and Fisk removed most of it in August after Hecker asked him again. Fisk later cleared out the rest of the scraps in the fall, Hecker said.

Fisk did not remove the 50 active taps and lines during the cleanup because he was hoping to make a new proposal for using the land, Hecker said, to keep those taps in place and add about 30 more. The October committee meeting at which the contract was scheduled to be discussed was Zoom-bombed, Hecker said, and the next scheduled opportunity to discuss it was the December meeting at which the commissioners rejected the proposal.

Fisk’s proposal to expand his business, Ben’s Maple Products LLC, by constructing a new 16,080 square-foot building at the corner of Webster Highway and Route 101, is still pending approval by the ZBA. At a meeting on Tuesday, the ZBA determined they still needed more information on the building’s impact on local real estate values, as well as traffic and safety considerations in order to approve the proposal. ZBA Chair John Kieley said they did determine they no longer had to require a special exception for the proposal, after the applicants conducted a resurvey and determined that an adjacent residence was 512 feet away from the proposed structure, rather than under 500 as previously reported. “Rather than go into deliberative session and deny it without allowing the applicant to provide any additional info, we decided to very publicly express our concerns,” Kieley said. “Obviously the motive is to give the applicant every opportunity to present their case.” The next hearing on the proposal is scheduled for March 2 at 5:30 p.m.

The Conservation Commission has almost finalized a draft Town Forest Stewardship Plan, which discusses the Commission's views on the future use of the forest, Hecker said, and they’re improving trails on the Chris Weston Conservation Land, another site in town they manage.


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