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Friday, May 5, 2017

Senate Votes to Keep Farmers' Waterway Cleanup Plans Private

Posted By on Fri, May 5, 2017 at 1:25 PM

Blue-green algae in Lake Champlain - FILE
  • File
  • Blue-green algae in Lake Champlain
Thursday morning, the Vermont Senate took environmentalists by surprise, voting to shield a key component of the state’s waterway cleanup plan from public scrutiny.

The Senate Agriculture Committee introduced an amendment on the floor to the “miscellaneous agriculture bill” that would exempt farms’ nutrient management plans from the state Public Records Act. It passed easily, without debate.

Those state-mandated plans detail what each farm is doing to curb pollution of the state’s waterways. Vermont is spending millions to help agricultural operations comply with the law.

“What this provision does is it essentially blinds the public from how those dollars are going to be implemented on farm fields,” said Rebekah Weber, “lakekeeper” for the Conservation Law Foundation. “I don’t understand the need for secrecy around that, especially when we’re asking the public to help foot the bill.”

CLF previously sued the state for failing to enforce federal clean water requirements — and won. It’s not enough, Weber suggested, to trust the Agency of Agriculture to inspect farmers’ plans. “The state hasn’t done a great job on enforcement,” she said.

Sen. Bobby Starr (D-Essex/Orleans) is the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. He argued that the public would still be able to see plans — so long as a farm’s name was redacted. According to Weber, that would limit CLF’s efforts to hold farms accountable.

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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Protesters Rally at the Statehouse Over Climate Issues

Posted By on Sat, Apr 29, 2017 at 6:46 PM

Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) speaking to the crowd at the climate rally - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) speaking to the crowd at the climate rally
Thousands of protesters converged at the Vermont Statehouse for a spirited rally held Saturday in solidarity with the climate march in Washington, D.C.

Protesters filled the Statehouse lawn to hear speakers from groups around the state rail against the environmental policies of President Donald Trump. Protesters displayed their positions in signs such as "Climate change is real," "There is no Planet B," and "Frack you Pruitt," a reference to Trump's Environmental Protection Agency chief, Scott Pruitt.

"Donald Trump, take a look at Montpelier," cried Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) when he took the podium. Clean energy sectors such as solar create jobs, Welch said, saying that Trump's policies are not only wrong, but are "plain stupid."

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Conservation Groups Buy Exit 4 Land Once Slated for Development

Posted By on Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 2:26 PM

Brian Shupe of the Vermont Natural Resources Council and Tim Storrow of the Castanea Foundation - KATIE JICKLING
  • Katie Jickling
  • Brian Shupe of the Vermont Natural Resources Council and Tim Storrow of the Castanea Foundation
Randolph developer Jesse "Sam" Sammis spent well more than half a decade seeking the permits for a large-scale development and rest stop around Interstate 89's Exit 4. But that land now is going to be preserved.

At a press conference near the Randolph interchange Tuesday, conservation groups announced that the Castanea Foundation will buy most of the 172-acre parcel. The Montpelier nonprofit will pay $1.2 million for 149 acres, and plans to resell it to Ayers Brook Goat Dairy, which supplies milk to Vermont Creamery.* The remaining 22.5 acres will be sold to the Preservation Trust of Vermont, if the organization can raise the agreed upon sum — $1 million — by June 15.

The agreement comes after a lengthy battle between the Greenwich, Conn., developer and local environmentalists. Sammis had been proceeding with the permitting to construct a massive multiuse development at the interchange. Plans included a welcome center, a rest stop, a 180-room hotel and conference center, as well as 274 homes, a fitness center, and light industrial space.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Burlington City Council to Consider Biking and Walking Master Plan

Posted By on Mon, Apr 17, 2017 at 5:04 PM

Oakledge Park - CALEB KENNA
  • Caleb Kenna
  • Oakledge Park
The Burlington City Council is scheduled Monday to discuss, and vote on, a long-awaited blueprint for the future of city streets, sidewalks, paths and intersections.

Lead sponsor Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) called the 200-page document "a world class vision for walking and biking." At the Wards 2 and 3 Neighborhood Planning Assembly last Thursday, he urged residents to come to Monday's meeting to voice their support. "I'm really, really excited about this," he said.

PlanBTV Walk Bike is part of a Queen City effort to achieve a "Gold Level" designation as a bike-friendly municipality, which requires that 65 percent of its roads have bike lanes. Currently, 12 percent of Burlington streets — 11.9 miles — have bike lanes.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Vermont Lawmakers Float Carbon-Combating Proposals

Posted By on Mon, Apr 10, 2017 at 6:01 PM

Rep. Diana Gonzalez (P/D-Winooski) talks up a carbon tax proposal Monday in Winooski with members of 350.org. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Terri Hallenbeck
  • Rep. Diana Gonzalez (P/D-Winooski) talks up a carbon tax proposal Monday in Winooski with members of 350.org.
It’s been a tough legislative session for Vermont progressives, big ‘P’ and small.

Many of them would prefer to shift a greater portion of the tax burden to the wealthy while sparing budget cuts to state programs. They’d also like to see more focus on climate change.

But with federal budget cuts looming, they’ve been swallowing hard and going along with a more conservative approach to state spending.

On Monday, four Vermont House members made polite, tentative steps toward maybe eventually advancing progressive policies that would tackle both taxation and climate change. Perhaps next year — or just sometime.

“What they have in common is they are all things to start a conversation,” said Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas (D-Bradford), who proposed phasing out the state sales tax in favor of a carbon pollution tax. “It’s how can we change our tax structure to achieve more of what we want.”

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Friday, March 3, 2017

Leahy: Trump Will Take 'Machete' to Environmental Programs

Posted By on Fri, Mar 3, 2017 at 6:10 PM

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Friday - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Friday
President Donald Trump is "gonna take a machete to essential investments in our communities," declared U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) during an event Friday in Burlington.

Trump has yet to unveil his budget blueprint — that is scheduled for March 16 — but he could cut $54 billion across federal agencies, including a quarter of the Environmental Protection Agency's funding and 20 percent of its staff.

Vermont's senior senator stood Friday with more than a dozen of the state's environmental leaders at the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain on the Burlington waterfront and detailed just how devastating such cuts could be for the Green Mountain State.

"The Trump administration's plan for the EPA would eliminate funding for Lake Champlain," Leahy told the crowd.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Richmond Residents to Vote on Funding for Proposed Town Forest

Posted By on Wed, Mar 1, 2017 at 2:43 PM

View of Camel's Hump from the land proposed for Richmond town forest - COURTESY PHOTO BY OLIVIA WOLF
  • Courtesy photo by Olivia Wolf
  • View of Camel's Hump from the land proposed for Richmond town forest
It has a round church and a ski area, and now Richmond could have a new amenity — a town forest.

Voters will be asked on Town Meeting Day if they want to spend $125,000 to help purchase 428 acres of the former Andrews Farm for a town forest.

The land, located about a mile east of Richmond village, could be used for recreation, birding, nature education, hunting and other activities.

The total cost of the land and conservation is $597,000. Grants and private donations would make up the difference between the full sum and the proposed $125,000 allocation from the Richmond Conservation Reserve Fund.

Voting on the question will take place by secret ballot from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on March 7 at Camels Hump Middle School.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Panel Recommends $31 Million in Taxes, Fees for Clean Water Efforts

Posted By on Tue, Feb 28, 2017 at 9:14 PM

The town beach in St. Albans in summer 2016 - FILE
  • File
  • The town beach in St. Albans in summer 2016
Vermonters and visitors alike would pay more in taxes and fees to help raise $31 million each year to reduce pollution in the state’s waterways, a Vermont House panel proposed Tuesday.

Money from 10 funding sources — including a $10 increase for the annual fee on motor vehicle registrations, a sales tax on marina slip rentals, and 1 percent increases in rooms, meals and alcohol taxes — would achieve that multimillion dollar figure, the Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee calculated.

The taxes would start in 2019 while the state figures out how to levy a “per-parcel fee” to be implemented in 2021. Such a fee would require property owners of all sizes, as well as tax-exempt organizations, to pay varying amounts annually.

Under the committee’s recommendation, that fee would become the long-term funding source as the state works to meet federally mandated goals to reduce phosphorus in Vermont’s rivers, streams and lakes. In the meantime, the state would rely on existing bonding capacity for the pollution reduction efforts.

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Walters: Scott’s Customer-First Environmental Stewardship

Posted By on Thu, Feb 23, 2017 at 2:50 PM

Gov. Phil Scott - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Gov. Phil Scott
There are signs of a shift in environmental policy under Gov. Phil Scott — a new focus on customer service, in which “customers” are defined as business interests. And while the Republican governor has promised to protect Vermont’s environment, these signs have to be worrying to many.

Two cases in point: an “inelegant” press release from the new chief of the Agency of Natural Resources and a nice reward for an arguably undeserving developer.

First, ANR Secretary Julie Moore is launching a “statewide listening tour” that started Thursday with a stop in St. Johnsbury and continues through March 2.

The purpose of the tour? To gather input from the agency’s “customers.”

And who, pray tell, are its customers? According to the release, they are “business owners, planners, real estate agents and others with regular business before the Agency.”

Hmmm. So the ANR’s “customer base” consists of business and development interests? Not, say, individuals, communities, advocates — or, you know, the environment itself?

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Monday, February 6, 2017

Smoking Ban: Burlington Clamps Down on Lighting Up in Parks

Posted By on Mon, Feb 6, 2017 at 11:57 PM

Burlington City Hall
  • Burlington City Hall
The Burlington City Council extinguished a long-smoldering debate Monday, unanimously approving an ordinance to ban smoking in city parks — with exceptions.

The compromise measure prohibits lighting up along Burlington's beaches and in neighborhood parks, but allows for designated smoking areas in larger parks, including Oakledge, Waterfront, Battery, North Beach and Leddy. The ban also encompasses City Hall Park, which had previously proved a flashpoint among councilors.

The final product required compromise from all sides, noted Councilor Dave Hartnett, an independent who sponsored the resolution. "I don't think anyone was thrilled about giving in on this one," he said.

It marked the final touch on what Republican councilor Kurt Wright dubbed "a long and winding road."

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