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Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Porter to Leave for Washington Electric Cooperative

Posted By on Tue, Sep 14, 2021 at 4:38 PM

  • Courtesy of Washington Electric Coop
  • Louis Porter
Updated at 5:41 p.m.

Louis Porter, commissioner of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, is stepping down to become the general manager of the Washington Electric Cooperative.

Porter, 45, will take charge of the East Montpelier-based electric utility, which serves nearly 11,000 customers in 41 towns in north-central Vermont. His last day with the state will be October 29, and he expects to start at the coop sometime in November.

Porter and his family live in Adamant and have long been customers of the member-owned utility, which was founded in 1939.

“Choosing someone to lead the co-op who has a long history in the community, and a demonstrated commitment to public service in Vermont makes sense,” Stephen Knowlton, the utility's board president, said in a press release.

Porter, a lifelong outdoorsman, said in an interview that he loves working for Fish & Wildlife but looks forward to the opportunity to learn about a dynamic industry providing a very different, but important, service to Vermonters.

“It’s always a good thing to learn something new and do something new,” Porter said.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Vermont Extends Ban on Dumping 'Garbage Juice' in Lake Memphremagog

Posted By on Wed, Aug 25, 2021 at 7:08 PM

Rick Levey and Kelsey Colbert gathering water samples in Lake Memphremagog - FILE: KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Kevin Mccallum ©️ Seven Days
  • Rick Levey and Kelsey Colbert gathering water samples in Lake Memphremagog
Vermont regulators extended a ban on the release of landfill leachate into Lake Memphremagog for an additional three years. The decision comes as officials explore better ways to clean the wastewater seeping out of the state’s mega-dump near the Canadian border.

The moratorium is now good until 2026. State officials announced it during a public meeting in Newport on Tuesday evening.

The Coventry landfill has long been a contentious issue along the border, and residents from both countries made it clear during the event that they don’t want the treated liquid, often dubbed “garbage juice," released into the international lake ever again. The nasty brew often contains polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, referred to as PFAS, that leached out of garbage.

Vermont Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore chaired the meeting, which went more than an hour over its scheduled 7 p.m. finish due to intense public interest in the issue.

“She really got a flavor of just how pissed off people are and how the economic and environmental injustice up here has just gone on and on and on,” Pam Ladds, a member of the anti-landfill group DUMP, which stands for Don’t Undermine Memphremagog’s Purity, said in an interview Wednesday.

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Monday, August 16, 2021

Vermont Fails to Protect Bats from Pesticides, Suit Claims

Posted By on Mon, Aug 16, 2021 at 7:24 PM

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist holding a little brown bat - U.S. FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE/ ANN FROSCHAUER
  • U.s. Fish & Wildlife Service/ Ann Froschauer
  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist holding a little brown bat
Two environmental groups are suing Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources for allegedly failing to protect endangered bats from pesticides meant to kill mosquitoes.

The Vermont Natural Resources Council and the Center for Biological Diversity filed the lawsuit Monday in the Environmental Division of Vermont Superior Court.

The groups say the agency should have required a mosquito protection district to get “incidental take” permits under Vermont’s Protection of Endangered Species Act for harming five threatened and endangered bat species.

The state Fish & Wildlife Department opted not require the Brandon-Leicester-Salisbury-Goshen-Pittsford Insect Control District to apply for such permits, arguing there was no evidence its pesticide spraying actually harms the creatures.

“Poorly regulated pesticide spraying is putting the state’s threatened and endangered bats at risk,” Mason Overstreet, staff attorney at Vermont Law School’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic, said in a press release. “ANR’s decision to ignore both the scientific consensus and the plain-preventative language of Vermont’s endangered species law abandons their responsibility to protect vulnerable wildlife.”

The agency’s July 2021 decision was made despite the unanimous recommendation in March by its own Endangered Species Committee that such permits should be required. The committee is a scientific panel that advises the agency.

A 2019 report by Huntington bat expert Jeff Parsons found that five bat species — Indiana bat, northern long-eared bat, eastern small-footed bat, little brown bat, and tri-colored bat — were all likely to suffer “acute toxic impacts” from flying through clouds of the insecticides malathion and permethrin.

In her ruling, Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore noted that the state is "fully committed to protecting" threatened and endangered species if an activity "actually poses a reasonable likelihood of risk of injury" to it. She called the risks to bats "speculative and unquantified."

The committee’s recommendation and the expert report raised sufficient questions about the risk to the bats that the department should have at least required the district to apply for a permit, said Jamey Fidel, Vermont Natural Resources Council's general counsel.

“The threshold is whether there’s a risk to injury of wildlife, whether the injury occurs or not,” Fidel said.

The permit process would have been a forum for experts to discuss whether there are alternatives or ways to lessen the impact of the pesticides, he said.

“There’s no doubt that Vermont’s refusal to follow science and the law will result in these amazing, imperiled animals being harmed by toxic insecticides,” Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a release. “Given that bats actually help to regulate mosquito populations, the state’s reckless decision to allow them to be killed in order to kill mosquitoes is a shortsighted choice that will cause long-term harm. It leaves us no choice but to go to court to protect them.”

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Monday, July 12, 2021

An Extensive Blue-Green Algae Bloom Closes Beaches in Burlington

Posted By on Mon, Jul 12, 2021 at 4:07 PM

Cyanobacteria on the Burlington waterfront - MATTHEW ROY ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Matthew Roy ©️ Seven Days
  • Cyanobacteria on the Burlington waterfront
Updated at 6:48 p.m.

All public beaches in Burlington have been closed because of an extensive cyanobacteria bloom in Lake Champlain.

The algal blooms — which look like pea soup or spilled paint on the water's surface — were first spotted at 11:15 a.m. on Monday at Blanchard Beach and the Cove at Oakledge Park during a visual inspection by staff, said Deryk Roach, Burlington Parks, Recreation and Waterfront's parks and central facilities superintendent. Minutes later, a staff member identified a bloom at North Beach. Before noon, Texaco Beach and Leddy Beach were closed because of the algae as well.

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Monday, July 5, 2021

Vermont's Loon Conservation Gets Lift From Oil Spill Settlement

Posted By on Mon, Jul 5, 2021 at 1:45 PM

Warning signs on Big Averill Lake in Norton - COURTESY OF BECKY SCOTT
  • Courtesy of Becky Scott
  • Warning signs on Big Averill Lake in Norton
Vermont’s annual loon protection budget is seeing a long-term expansion this year, thanks to a settlement from a 2003 oil spill in Buzzards Bay.

A grant of about $450,000 will be used to improve protection for loon nesting sites in Vermont lakes, and new mapping and education tools, said Eric Hanson, a biologist for the Vermont Center for Ecostudies who works on loon management in partnership with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Hanson said the center’s Vermont Loon Conservation Project will also use the money over the next several years to revamp the database of the volunteers who provide information about the large migratory birds and their nesting sites at lakes around the state.

“And I’ll be able to get safety gear for ice rescue,” said Hanson, noting sometimes chicks or adults are found frozen but alive on lake surfaces. “We’ll be able to capture them and give them a second chance.”

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Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Will Raap Plans to Turn Nordic Farms Into a Grain-Based Ag Hub

Posted By on Tue, Jun 8, 2021 at 1:00 PM

Will Rapp at Nordic Farms - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Will Rapp at Nordic Farms
Entrepreneur Will Raap, the founder of Gardener’s Supply and the Intervale Center, is purchasing Nordic Farms, a roughly 600-acre former dairy farm on Route 7 in Charlotte, he said last week.

Raap, 72, has an ambitious vision for the site. In collaboration with partners, he intends to build an agriculture center that showcases Vermont grains, botanicals and beverages on a working farm that produces these goods.

Envisioned as an “ecosystem” of enterprises, the project would encompass private businesses, nonprofit organizations and agricultural education. Shoreham-based WhistlePig Whiskey would have a tasting room and storage facility at the site , which would also be home to the Cyrus Pringle Museum. Named for the Charlotte-born, 19th-century botanist and grain breeder who cofounded Horsford Gardens & Nursery, the museum will focus on grains in the Green Mountain State.

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Friday, May 21, 2021

Lawmakers Pass Historic $7.3 Billion Budget Laden With Stimulus Funds

Posted By on Fri, May 21, 2021 at 6:34 PM

The Vermont Statehouse - FILE ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File ©️ Seven Days
  • The Vermont Statehouse
Vermont lawmakers on Friday passed a $7.3 billion budget swollen with nearly $600 million in federal dollars to stimulate the pandemic-battered economy, accelerate broadband internet availability, invest in new affordable housing and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is a lot of money going into the Vermont economy in a lot of ways,” Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia) told colleagues shortly before the Senate passed what lawmakers refer to as the “big bill.”

That move, and a subsequent vote by the House, marked the last consequential action of the legislative session, after which lawmakers formally adjourned the first year of the biennium.

The close of the first — and likely last — fully-remote legislative session of the General Assembly was accompanied by congratulations from leaders for all they’ve accomplished this session.

"We demonstrated so clearly that we still have a healthy democracy here in the Green Mountain State, and soon we will all be back in the People’s House
Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint
 together," Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint (D-Windham) said before adjourning.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Company Scraps Plan to Scuttle an Obsolete Ferry in Lake Champlain

Posted By on Tue, May 11, 2021 at 3:26 PM

The retired ferry Adirondack in Port Kent, N.Y. - ROB FOUNTAIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • ROB FOUNTAIN ©️ Seven Days
  • The retired ferry Adirondack in Port Kent, N.Y.
Lake Champlain Transportation is scrapping plans to sink a retired ferry in Burlington Bay after lawmakers and environmental groups warned that scuttling the 108-year-old vessel could further pollute the lake.

The company and state officials on Tuesday withdrew the application for a permit that the Department of Environmental Conservation had approved in March, and which environmental groups appealed in court.

“We’ve concluded, in consultation with the transit company, that in light of the rising tide of public opposition, the cost of the project due to the appeal of the lake encroachment permit, and the pending review by the City of Burlington, that it is best not to move forward,” said Laura Trieschmann, the state’s historic preservation officer.

The state Department of Historic Preservation was a co-applicant for the permit because the sunken Adirondack would have become property of the state, as well as part of the network of historic shipwrecks called the Lake Champlain Underwater Historic Preserves.

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Monday, May 10, 2021

Hoffer: Vermont's Dairy Industry Netted $285 Million in State Support Over a Decade

Posted By on Mon, May 10, 2021 at 1:47 PM

  • File ©️ Seven Days
Vermont has spent $285 million to support its struggling dairy industry in the last decade, according to a new report from the state auditor’s office.

The tax breaks, reduced fees, grants and technical assistance that the dwindling number of dairy farms received between 2010 and 2019 illustrate just how dependent the industry has become on state assistance for its survival.

Unlike other reports from State Auditor Doug Hoffer’s office that attempt to ferret out fraud or waste in state spending, the “investigative report” neither finds fault with the funding nor recommends any changes.

“This report is intended to serve as a resource for State policymakers, program managers, and the public as they consider the future of dairy in Vermont and what role public funds should play," the report states.

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Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Burlington School Board Votes to Abandon PCB-Contaminated High School

Posted By on Tue, May 4, 2021 at 10:20 PM

Warnings at Burlington High School - FILE: COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Warnings at Burlington High School
The Burlington School Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to terminate a $70 million high school renovation project, paving the way for plans to build a brand new building at a yet-to-be-determined location in the Queen City.

The board’s decision came after Superintendent Tom Flanagan recommended that the district halt the project because of widespread contamination from polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on the high school campus.

“I feel strongly, after collaboration and consultation with my team and with our experts in this work, that it is no longer possible to meet our stated goals of the ReEnvisioning Project,” Flanagan told the board. “The PCB contamination and remediation that will be needed to address the contamination pushes us over the threshold of what is possible in this building, and I believe that we need to start fresh with a new build.”

Burlington voters approved a $70 million bond in November 2018 to undertake the extensive renovation of the city’s high school and technical center. As part of the project, the school district was required to perform environmental testing of the property.

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