Public Safety

Court grants Slate Ridge owner an extension to demolish school building

Daniel Banyai, owner of the Slate Ridge paramilitary training facility in West Pawlet, appears for a contempt hearing in Environmental Court in Rutland in November. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Daniel Banyai has received an extension from the state’s Environmental Court and now has two more months to remove a school building at the heart of a high-profile case that’s lumbered on for years. 

Banyai, who owns Slate Ridge, a controversial paramilitary training facility in West Pawlet, requested the extension earlier this month through his attorney, Robert Kaplan.

His final deadline to comply with the court’s standing orders — June 23 — remains in place.

Neighbors have raised concerns about Slate Ridge for years, and while government officials have said Banyai has not violated state or federal laws, the town of Pawlet has fought to shutter the facility by bringing his local zoning violations to court. 

In March 2021, Environmental Court Judge Thomas Durkin ordered Banyai to shut down the facility and deconstruct all related buildings and improvements. Banyai appealed, and the Supreme Court later agreed with Durkin’s order.

The town of Pawlet then alleged that, although Banyai had paid more than $50,000 in fines, he hadn’t complied with the part of the order that required him to remove buildings, structures and gun ranges from his property. Earlier this year, Durkin issued another ruling that Banyai, indeed, was violating court orders. 

As a result, Durkin set a schedule with several deadlines by which Banyai must deconstruct various buildings and structures on his property or face jail time. Banyai owes Pawlet $200 per day, starting on Jan. 14, 2022, but those fines will be erased if he meets the deadlines outlined in the court’s updated schedule.

Earlier this month, Kaplan asked the court to reconsider parts of its order. 

First, he asked that the court allow Banyai to push back the first March 25 deadline to remove a school building. The professional building mover working with Banyai said weather conditions would make the work impossible before the March deadline, according to a letter from the mover, which Kaplan filed with his request. 

In his most recent decision, issued on Friday, Durkin wrote that while the deadline period “included winter and mud-season, (Banyai) had over a year, with all available seasons, to comply with this Court’s 2021 order, once affirmed by the Vermont Supreme Court.”

Still, the judge gave Banyai until May 25 to remove the school building, and Banyai must submit an affidavit by March 31 stating that he has removed several other structures, including a building facade and shipping containers. 

Banyai must remove all of the remaining unpermitted structures and improvements by June 23 and make his property available for site inspections from Pawlet officials following the May and June deadlines. 

Durkin is still considering two of Kaplan’s other requests. In one, Kaplan asked the court to reconsider a requirement that Banyai demolish the berms that comprise gun ranges on the property. 

Kaplan’s other request asks the court to give Banyai an opportunity to disagree with town officials’ findings after their site visits — particularly because Banyai could be imprisoned if town officials find he hasn’t complied with orders. 

Reached by phone Monday, Kaplain declined to answer specific questions, but said Banyai “takes this proceeding very seriously, and is very intentional in being deliberate in his efforts to comply with the court's order.”

Merrill Bent, the attorney for the town of Pawlet, told VTDigger she was satisfied with the new extension because it would not impact the court’s final deadline in June.

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Emma Cotton

About Emma

Emma Cotton is a Report for America corps member who covers the environment, climate change, energy and agriculture. Previously, she covered Rutland and Bennington counties for VTDigger, wrote for the Addison Independent and served as assistant editor of Vermont Sports and VT Ski + Ride magazines. Emma studied marine science and journalism at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.


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