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Has Clavelle Given Up? 

Inside Track

Last Thursday, the Vermont Water Resources Board, chaired by a Jim Douglas appointee, issued a unanimous decision halting the construction of one of the apples in Gov. Scissorhands economic development eye: the 151,000-square-foot Lowe's Home Center in South Burlington.

Along with promising to build the Circumferential Highway, Candidate Douglas vowed in 2002 to end the permit impasse over construction in impaired watersheds, an impasse which had been holding up construction of the Lowe's big box.

Candidate Douglas also branded the Conservation Law Foundation, www.clf.org, an "extremist" outfit for daring to complain about the Circ's outdated environmental impact statement and the rivers of polluted stormwater that would run from Lowe's construction site into Potash Brook and Shelburne Bay.

Damn environmental extremists! Don't they realize pollution can be good for Vermont in certain cases?

In the wake of the WRB decision halting construction, the first reaction from the Douglas administration was to stick up for Lowe's. Environmental Commissioner Jeff Wennberg immediately took the big-box chain's side and declared the polluter did not have to stop construction activity right away because they had 15 days to appeal.

And so, with the blessing of Vermont's environmental agency, construction continued in the rain Friday, and the pollution continued flowing into already-impaired Potash Brook as if Thursday's WRB decision did not exist.

"Call me naive," said CLF Attorney Chris Kilian, "but I thought state officials would take the WRB ruling seriously. I didn't expect the response would be to wait 15 days. They're just not serious about enforcing the ruling."

He's got a point, eh?

"The Agency of Natural Resources and the Department of Environmental Conservation," said a stunned Kilian, "are much deeper in the pockets of developers than I ever imagined."

By Tuesday, reality had set in. Wennberg told Seven Days he had "made a mistake" last week when he said Lowe's had 15 days to appeal the WRB decision. Instead, he released a letter telling Lowe's to cease any construction work by Thursday. Meanwhile, he said, Lowe's can apply for a proper permit and the agency will be happy to help them get it as quickly as possible.

"This decision isn't the end of the world," said Wennberg. "Certainly I see this as an unwelcome delay from the standpoint of Lowe's perspective."

From Lowe's perspective?

The question is, why is Vermont's environmental commissioner so concerned about the polluter's well-being rather than the environment's well-being? Have the foxes completely taken over the task of guarding Vermont's environmental henhouse?

Unfortunately, the Lowe's debacle does not stand alone. Rather, it reflects a trend in environmental management by the Douglas administration. Remember the Circ?

Candidate Douglas used its stalled construction as a campaign issue. He then got President George W. Bush to put the highway project on the "fast track."

Gov. Douglas then refused to discuss the concerns of Circ opponents and ramped up the construction timetable, ignoring the fact that the federal court case would not be decided until a week after construction was supposed to start. Talk about big cohones, eh?

As we all know, U.S. District Court Judge Bill Sessions halted the Circ project in May for lack of an adequate environmental impact statement. It was as if the Douglas team never contemplated the possibility it was wrong.

Now Lowe's big box, like the Circ Highway, is indefinitely delayed because neither project was abiding by the environmental laws of the land. You'd think the governor of Vermont, a state with a pro-environment image, would be defending environmental laws rather than ignoring them.

Think again.

Which brings us to the Democratic candidate for governor, Peter Clavelle. Remember him?

Clavelle has apparently decided that he will be elected governor if he can convince enough voters he will get them cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. Health care is his biggest and, so far, only issue.

Unfortunately, informed sources say Mayor Moonie is lagging behind Gov. Scissorhands by as much as 20 points in recent polling. Clavelle can talk health-care reform until the cows come home, but it's not going to close a 20-point gap.

Jim Douglas is too slick, too good at covering his bases. In fact, he's already taken away much of Clavelle's health-care steam by supporting Attorney General Bill Sorrell's lawsuit against the FDA.

So what was candidate Clavelle's response to the Douglas administration's environmental embarrassment regarding Lowe's last week?

Ready for this?

Clavelle didn't have a response. No press conference. No statement. No criticism of his opponent's second instance of getting caught on the wrong side of environmental laws.

Instead, on Monday, Candidate Moonie hopped in his environmetally friendly Honda and drove to Rutland to speak to the Rotary. Not even the Rutland Herald covered his little speech. You call this effective campaigning?

Imagine for a second that Bernie Sanders, rather than Peter Clavelle, was the gubernatorial challenger this year. Can't you just picture Ol' Bernardo standing outside the governor's office holding the WRB decision in one hand and a pair of handcuffs in the other?

"Either enforce our environmental laws and stop the polluters," we can imagine Bernie screaming, "or I'm going to put these handcuffs on you, Governor!"

It'd be the lead story on Ch. 3 and Ch. 5, front-page news in the Freeps, and people would be talking about it for weeks.

Instead, back in the real world, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate is strangely silent in the face of the incumbent's environmental disgrace.

Clavelle's handlers insist they have a plan, or, as they call it, a "path" to victory. However, with 60 days left to Election Day, they've certainly done a good job of concealing it, eh?

The Douglas Touch -- If Jim Douglas wins a second term -- and there's no reason at the moment to expect otherwise -- a lot of credit will go to his daring band of creative Young Turks: Jim Barnett, Neale Lunderville and Campaign Manager Ian Grossman.

You see, politics is all about appearances. It's also about balls. The Nasty Boys do not lack for balls.

Environmentalists in Vermont do not think of Jim Douglas as a champion of renewable energy. If anything, they see him as an obstacle.

But that didn't stop Mr. Grossman from trying to rent the Solar Bus -- www.solarbus.org -- as the Gov's vehicle of transport for a campaign swing around the state.

The Solar Bus is a 1982 Crown Super coach that's been refitted and refurbished by Gary Beckwith of Richmond. The bus is actually an education project on wheels, designed to promote renewable energy.

Beckwith told Seven Days that Mr. Grossman called him up and inquired about using the bus on a Douglas campaign tour. Great visuals, eh?

Beckwith asked for a little time to do some research on Gov. Douglas' record on renewable energy before agreeing.

Needless to say, a little research was all it took to learn that Gov. Scissorhands is no champion of renewable energy. Beckwith said he quickly learned of Douglas' opposition to renewable-energy portfolio standards, wind-energy development and much more.

"My conclusion," said Beckwith, "was that Gov. Douglas hasn't done anything for renewable energy."

Last week he wrote the Douglas campaign to inform them the Solar Bus would not be available for campaign events.

Hey, maybe Clavelle could use it?

Oh, right. I forgot. The environment's not an issue for the Clavelle campaign. It's all health care, health care, health care.

Never mind.

GOP Convention Update -- Republican National Committeeman Skip Vallee tells Seven Days he was out partying into the wee hours of Tuesday morning with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Gasoline Vallee said he was going into an unidentified private event at 1 a.m. as Rudy was leaving.

"He said he had to get up for a live 6 a.m. interview with NBC's Matt Lauer," said the impressed Vermonter.

Earlier in the evening, Vallee and the Vermont crew had been practically held prisoner in a Broadway theater. Protesters crowded the front door as the show ended, "verbally assaulting" the Vermont and Iowa Republican delegates trapped inside. Vallee also said there were "roving little hooligan-like gangs harassing people verbally on the street."

Asked if members of the Vermont delegation have been cussed out on the sidewalks of New York, Skip said that "usually the expletives were directed at the president."

As they should be, eh?

Vallee also confirmed reports that Rutland Herald/Times Argus reporter Claude Marx had somehow managed to lose his convention credentials. Skip said that Mr. Marx "claimed his credentials have been stolen."

He also said the Vermont delegation would do whatever it could to get Groucho access to the convention floor.

Later Mr. Marx confirmed that his press passes for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday's sessions had been swiped at the hotel when he "left them unattended for three minutes."

Marx told Seven Days Tuesday afternoon that he was able to convince the GOP press office to issue him another set.

"Situation solved, thankfully," said Groucho.

World Trade Update! -- Six weeks ago, we broke the news that the Douglas administration was about to shut down the Vermont World Trade Office.

This week it became a done deal. Director Brad Broadwell has been let go and the VWTO operation, according to Commerce Secretary Kevin Dorn, has been "brought inside."

Broadwell confirmed his departure but declined further comment.

The reason for the switcheroo, explained Douglas administration officials, is the loss of the annual federal grants that provided most of the office's funding. Ryan Labbe (Lah-bay) has been appointed the interim executive director of the state's new world trade operation. It will be run out of the Montpelier office of the Department of Economic Development.

Mr. Labbe praised the "good graces" of Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy in securing the grant money over the past decade, but lamented that the funding had not made the VWTO self-sustaining.

The new world trade operation, said Labbe, will include a state partnership with the state Chamber of Commerce and the Burlington-based Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce. "Expect to see more collaboration among the stakeholders," said Labbe.

Labbe, 29, told Seven Days that despite his lack of international trade experience, he feels "pretty well-qualified" to run the newly reconstituted VWTO.

One of Labbe's most interesting qualifications, we've learned, is that the South Carolina native was the college roommate of the Boy Wonder himself -- Neale Lunderville!

Lunderville, who just turned 30, served admirably as Douglas' campaign manager in 2002. Neale is calling the campaign shots again this time, too as director.

Lunderville's young "partner in crime" in 2002, Jim Barnett, is now chairman of the Vermont Republican Party. And like Lunderville and Labbe and Grossman, Mad Dog also graduated from American University.

What are they teaching at American University?

Because, whatever it is, it's working in Vermont.

Political Tie -- Democrat and Republican lawmakers, office holders and others squared off in a softball battle with hardball consequences last weekend at Centennial Field. Guess what?

No winner. The game ended in a 5-5 tie.

And Republican shortstop, Rep, Doran Metzger, ended up on the injured list after a nasty spill while chasing a fly ball in short left.

"There's an inning or two missing that I don't remember," Doran-Doran told Seven Days. Rep. Metzger said he got checked out at the ER after the game and by Monday was feeling like his old self.

Last year, Republican Rep. Rick Hube busted a rib in the political "softball" contest. And this year, Republican Rep. Kurt Wright sustained a bloody gash on his knee while sliding home.

Seems like the Rs are injury-prone, eh?

P.S. Speaking of Kurt, the lone Republican in the Vermont House from the People's Republic of Burlington has a new job!

Rep. Wright, formerly known as Kwik Stop Kurt of Kerry's Kwik Stop fame, has landed a new job as a mortgage loan officer at Saffire Mortgage in Williston.

Good luck, Kwik Stop.

Radio Ratings -- The Arbitron Ratings are out and, for the first time in a while, something's changed: Howard Stern's WIZN audience has suddenly skyrocketed!

For example, in the 25-49-year-old demographic, the one that best matches Seven Days' readership, the Howard Stern audience has more than doubled to take a 22 percent share of the audience.

It's the first time in a long time that country music giant WOKO hasn't dominated every demographic. WOKO got a 15 percent share. WXXX was third with 7.6 percent.

For all listeners 12-plus, WOKO remains #1 with a 15.9 share. WIZN's Stern, however, is a close second overall with 13.7 percent of the morning drive-time audience; WXXX came in third.

Howard Stern's popularity is suddenly increasing on the local airwaves. What does it mean?

Maybe the end of the world is closer than we think, eh?

By the way, tune into the Wizard every Tuesday afternoon after 5 o'clock and Wednesday morning during "The Howard Stern Show" for yours truly's preview of the upcoming "Inside Track."

Belly Up! -- Progressive Party Lite-Gov candidate Steve Hingtgen has raised the bar on Vermont campaign tactics. He's deliberately campaigning in bars!

Hingtgen told Seven Days he registered 10 new voters in Charlie-O's in Montpeculiar the other night.

The big questions for a pol on the bar circuit, said Steve, are, "Where do you stand on smoking?" and "What do you think about the alcohol tax?"

"The correct answer is supposed to be, 'I don't encourage either,'" he said.

Hingtgen defended the daring campaign tactic by noting, "Bars and taverns are part of Vermont's social environment. Besides," he said, "I enjoy a cold beverage."

Interesting, eh?

Going after the drinker vote.

This could catch on.

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Bio:
Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.

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