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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Walters: State Panel Provides Few Answers for Water Cleanup

Posted By on Wed, Nov 15, 2017 at 8:52 PM

Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore
A state working group tasked with proposing legislation and identifying a funding source for Vermont’s 20-year effort to reduce phosphorus pollution in its waterways has finished its work — without achieving either of its primary goals.

The Working Group on Water Quality Funding was created by Act 73, a law passed this year by the state legislature. Its members were mainly officials from the administration of Gov. Phil Scott. Its final report was delivered to the legislature on Wednesday.

Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore, a member of the group, blames its failure to reach conclusions on a short timeframe and a raft of complications. “There’s a need for several important public policy questions to be discussed,” she says. “We need to have clarity on how much we need to raise before we can propose legislation.”

Other complications, she adds, include how to collect and administer a per-parcel water-quality fee that remains the most likely long-term revenue source, and how to split costs between state and local governments for many types of improvement projects. The working group is effectively kicking back many of those questions to the legislature.

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Walters: Tensions High at Lake Carmi Meeting

Posted By on Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 6:25 PM

  • Wikipedia, Sickter6
  • Lake Carmi
A routine series of water quality meetings about the Lake Carmi watershed have become strained in recent months, leading a state official to request the presence of game wardens at the latest meeting Thursday night. The two wardens were in full uniform, which customarily includes a firearm.

The Lake Carmi Implementation Team meets monthly, bringing together state and local officials and interest groups in an effort to create a cleanup plan for a lake that's been overcome this year with blue-green algae blooms.

"The last three meetings, there's been a very spirited crowd," said Emily Boedecker, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation. "In a situation where I and the team members were feeling challenged, I asked for the wardens to be present."

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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Vermont Panel Recommends No New Fees for Water Cleanup

Posted By on Thu, Oct 19, 2017 at 9:26 AM

Blue-green algae in Lake Champlain - FILE
  • File
  • Blue-green algae in Lake Champlain
A state panel is recommending that Vermont rely for the next six years on existing funds to reduce pollution in Lake Champlain and other waterways, even while acknowledging significant resources will eventually be needed.

The preliminary recommendation was released Wednesday as the state’s Act 73 Working Group on Water Quality Funding moves toward producing a final report for the legislature by November 15.

"In the near term, the Act 73 Working Group recommends existing revenue sources to fund clean water investments," the draft report concluded, while recommending that state leaders begin studying other funding options next year to cover costs starting in 2024.

Environmental activists and legislative leaders have called for new funding sources to tackle water quality improvement efforts in Vermont. The state reached an agreement with the federal government in 2016 to meet phosphorus reduction goals. Blue-green algae blooms provide an annual reminder of the underlying problem.

“We are struggling to see how we’re going to meet the goal with existing money,” Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) said Wednesday after reviewing the draft recommendations.

Those recommendations could be revised before the final report is issued, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore said Wednesday. The public has two weeks to submit comments on the draft report before that final report is prepared, she said.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Vermont Senators Press Natural Resources Head on Lake Funding

Posted By on Wed, Oct 11, 2017 at 10:37 AM

Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore speaks Tuesday night at a forum in Shelburne sponsored by the Chittenden County Senate delegation. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore speaks Tuesday night at a forum in Shelburne sponsored by the Chittenden County Senate delegation.
Julie Moore, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources secretary, insisted Tuesday night that state officials are committed to cleaning up Vermont waterways.

Her boss, Gov. Phil Scott, intends to make the investments needed to meet goals for reducing phosphorus, she said. Chittenden County senators, who sponsored the hearing in Shelburne that drew about 45 local residents, wanted to know if that means Scott will agree to a new funding source to get it done.

"He hasn't said absolutely no," Moore responded.

Wary senators pressed further.

Sen. Phil Baruth (D-Chittenden) asked if the governor would require new spending to be offset by cuts to other environmental programs. Baruth noted that Scott made a similar proposal this year in education, when the governor called for increased investments in early and higher education while reducing spending on pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade education.

"I haven't heard that from the governor," Moore said, noting that a legislatively mandated working group is scheduled to produce water-quality funding recommendations by November 15.

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Conservationists Unhappy After Scott Questions Wildlife Refuge Expansion

Posted By on Mon, Sep 11, 2017 at 4:04 PM

The refuge's website - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • The refuge's website
Supporters of an expansion to the Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge were surprised and disappointed to learn Gov. Phil Scott has concerns about the long-planned project.

In a letter to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke dated September 1, Scott said he was “very apprehensive” about the federal government's plan to acquire 60,000 acres of Vermont forest and farmland for the refuge, which spans four New England states in the Connecticut River watershed.

But Heather Furman, director of the Nature Conservancy's Vermont chapter, said the expansion has been in the works for more than a decade, spanning the terms of Vermont governors from both parties. She thought the state's concerns had been addressed, especially after a January decision by the federal government to go ahead with the expansion.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Vermont Climate Panel Has Three Months to Land Three Ideas

Posted By on Wed, Aug 16, 2017 at 9:20 AM

Bill Laberge, Michele Boomhower and Liz Gamache, members of the Vermont Climate Action Commission - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Terri Hallenbeck
  • Bill Laberge, Michele Boomhower and Liz Gamache, members of the Vermont Climate Action Commission
A new state panel has just three months to come up with three recommendations for how Vermont can respond to climate change.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” Peter Walke, deputy secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, told the 21-member Vermont Climate Action Commission at its inaugural meeting Tuesday. “By December, we’re voting on three recommendations.”

The work is imperative and the timeline is tight, Walke's cochair told the group. After making its initial recommendations, the group needs to come up with a long-term plan by next July.

“I think we’re at a transformative moment in history,” said Paul Costello, executive director of the Vermont Rural Development Council. “Solving climate change is the most fundamental challenge of our time.”

Gov. Phil Scott created the commission in July. Before the first meeting, the commission had veered into controversy.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Walters: Environmentalists Object to Scott Climate Panel Choice

Posted By on Thu, Aug 10, 2017 at 6:15 PM

Annette Smith in her home office - ADAM VANDERMINDEN
  • Adam Vanderminden
  • Annette Smith in her home office
Gov. Phil Scott's Climate Action Commission hasn't even held its first meeting, but it's already taken a step that may alienate a broad swath of Vermont's environmental community

The commission's cochair, Agency of Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Peter Walke, sent an email Wednesday seeking members for the commission's Technical Advisory Group. He wrote that two people would serve as the group's cochairs: Kevin Jones, professor at Vermont Law School, and Annette Smith, founder of Vermonters for a Clean Environment and a vociferous critic of large-scale wind turbines.

While Jones' appointment has drawn little controversy, Smith's has caused at least three prospective TAG members to decline to serve — and prompted a statement of concern from the commission's sole representative of the environmental community.

Vermont Natural Resources Council energy and climate program director Johanna Miller, a member of the commission, said that naming the two as cochairs "calls into question the independence, transparency and, ultimately, the integrity of the commission." She called the move "disappointing and disturbing" and called on the administration to revisit "this preemptive decision at the first commission meeting."

That meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, August 15.

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Senator Challenges Appointments to Vermont Act 250 Panel

Posted By on Thu, Aug 10, 2017 at 4:32 PM

Sen. Dustin Degree - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Dustin Degree
Three senators who were appointed to review Vermont’s land-use law lack the political diversity that lawmakers required, according to Senate Minority Leader Dustin Degree (R-Franklin).

Lawmakers this year established the six-member commission to consider the future of Act 250, the 47-year-old law that governs development.

The House speaker and the Senate Committee on Committees were each directed to appoint three members. Legislation specified that in both cases, the appointees were not to be all from the same party.

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

UVM to Sell 44 Acres of Prime, Undeveloped Land in South Burlington

Posted By on Wed, Aug 2, 2017 at 5:09 PM

A view of the Martin Tract - UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT
  • University of Vermont
  • A view of the Martin Tract
The University of Vermont wants to sell off 44 acres of prime real estate it owns in South Burlington — to earn some revenue and to enable housing to be built on the property.

Developers have until August 18 to respond to a request for proposals that UVM issued June 20. The land is south of Interstate 189, near the intersection of Spear and Swift streets.

The solicitation seeks a buyer "with the intention of developing housing that will be made available to the community."

The undeveloped parcels are about about 1.5 miles from the campus, near the East Woods natural area.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Walters: Scott Unveils Yet Another Climate Panel

Posted By on Fri, Jul 21, 2017 at 10:45 AM

Gov. Phil Scott with members of his Climate Action Commission - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Gov. Phil Scott with members of his Climate Action Commission
For the third time in twelve years, a Vermont governor has created a committee to address climate change.

In 2005 it was Jim Douglas. In 2011, Peter Shumlin gave it a shot. And now in 2017, Gov. Phil Scott has unveiled his very own Climate Action Commission. Every six years, like clockwork.

Scott even joked about the repeat performance. “I wanted to carry on the tradition,” he said at a Thursday press conference. The assembled dignitaries chuckled. He then proceeded to explain, with full seriousness, why Yet Another Panel was a good idea.

“I think it’s important to reestablish those commissions and look at what the objectives were of those commissions,” he said. “I think what we’re looking for is, they went a long ways, and we’re looking to move on from there forward.”

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