Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Vermont Environmental & Land Use Law, April 19, 2012

photo by Jon Sullivan

Vermont wins federal change on Guard disaster aid, Burlington Free Press
In the weeks after Tropical Storm Irene caused widespread flooding in Vermont, the role of the National Guard changed from getting emergency food and medical supplies to cutoff towns to helping state transportation crews rebuild roads into those towns.

Wednesday, nearly eight months after the storm, Gov. Peter Shumlin and other officials announced they’d been told of a change in federal policy that’s likely to be seen as good news by state emergency responders around the country: The Federal Highway Administration says it will reimburse state National Guard units when they pitch in to do emergency road repair work.

“National Guard troops were vital to Vermont’s recovery effort, saving lives and property in the hardest-hit areas, and helping with road and bridge repair,” Shumlin said.

With the FHWA agreement that it will pay $4 million to reimburse the Guard’s road work, that much will be freed up for the state to use elsewhere in ongoing efforts to rebuild from the storm, Shumlin said.
Vermont farmers grappling with silt, sand from Irene, Burlington Free Press
Most of the refuse left behind from Tropical Storm Irene — televisions, refrigerators, books and toys — has been cleared from the pastures and fields of Liberty Hill Farm along the White River. But the flood waters also deposited a layer of gravel, sand and silt that is choking grass in some spots of the normally rich, loamy soil and hampering spring planting of other feed crops for their dairy cows.

"There's still a tremendous amount of work to do up and down the valley," said farmer Beth Kennett.

More than 460 Vermont farms were damaged by Irene. Seven months later, farmers are still grappling with what the floodwaters left behind, including rocks, trees, gravel, sand and silt that has turned some fields from a fertile brown to a tinge of gray or even sandy white. The composition of the soil will affect yields.

Some farmers are paying thousands of dollars to use excavators and bulldozers to remove the debris and scrape off the silt. They're also plowing under sand and adding nutrients and paying for seed to reseed crops.
Vt. trash bill loaded with bottle bill, bag ban, WCAX
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - A bill to push recycling and stop trash from going to landfills has been caught up in a Vermont Senate committee in a debate over expanding the bottle bill and adding a ban on plastic grocery bags.

The House passed a bill in early March calling for a study of how various waste streams are handled and setting goals for banning recyclable materials from landfills.

But as the Senate Natural Resources Committee finished work on the measure on Friday, it added two amendments. One calls for a ban on plastic grocery bags, while the other would expand the state's deposits on beverage bottles to include plastic water and juice containers.

Prospects are uncertain for the amendments when the bill moves to the Senate floor.
Hundreds gather to protest Vt. nuclear plant, WCAX
More than 1,000 people have turned out on the Brattleboro town green for another protest against the continued operation of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

Saturday's event included speeches by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Gov. Peter Shumlin. Both are calling for the state's wishes to be honored and for the 40-year-old Vernon reactor to be shut down.

Shumlin offers a list of what he said were misstatements by the plant's owner, New Orleans-based Entergy Corp.

The event has drawn participants from Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The plant's emergency evacuation zone extends into the three states.

Vermont Yankee's federal license was extended, but its state permit expired last month. It won a federal court order allowing it to stay open for now.
Waterbury, Duxbury, Vt. launch solar initiative, WCAX
Officials in the north central Vermont towns of Waterbury and Duxbury are launching a year-long effort in which they hope to double the number of solar-power projects in the town.

Rep. Rebecca Ellis, a member of the Vermont House and the Waterbury Select Board, says the aim is for local residents to cut energy bills and fight climate change.

Officials say 52 solar hot water and electricity generating systems already are in use in the two towns.

Local solar dealers say they're ready to step up and help the towns double that number.
Irene Recovery Group Says It Will Take Two Years To Distribute Funds, VPR
Nearly eight months after Tropical Storm Irene, Vermont's Long Term Disaster Recovery Group says it's just beginning to distribute millions of dollars in donations. The money was collected to help people whose property was damaged or destroyed.

The group says it will likely take two years for all the money to find its way to people.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, two members of the allocations committee of the Vermont Long Term Disaster Recovery Group hold a conference call with case workers in the field to go over applications for money from the statewide relief fund.

So far the committee has approved all of the applications it's received and, in short order, sent checks to families and individuals.

But they've only received 30 applications out of the hundreds they're expecting - and only $350,000 of the $3.4 million in donations in the fund has been distributed.

To understand why, the group says it's important to keep in mind that phrase ‘long term disaster recovery.'

This is a fund of last resort. Only after money from FEMA, insurance and local disaster relief is tallied up are people eligible to apply to the long term fund.
Vermont disagrees with Pew study of business development incentives, Vermontbiz.com
The state of Vermont is calling into question a national review of state business development tax incentives. Vermont, according to a report released Wednesday by the Pew Center on the States, is one of several states that is not looking hard enough at the results of tax incentives used for economic development. Vermont is among half the states "trailing behind" in its review of these incentive policies. However, that study did not include Vermont's principal incentive program.

The Vermont Agency of Commerce issued a statement Friday saying that while it appreciates the work done by the Pew Center for the States, including their recently released report, “Evidence Counts,” an evaluation of State tax incentives for jobs and growth, it is missing a key element in its evaluation of Vermont.

The report was not clear that Vermont’s current and active business incentive program, the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive (VEGI) program, was not included by the Pew Center in this evaluation. According to Josh Goodman of the Pew Center on the States, “While [the Center] was intrigued by the design of VEGI (and, in particular, your approach to "but for"), we concluded that VEGI is a cash incentive, rather than a tax incentive--it does not reduce companies' tax liabilities. Therefore, we didn't include the VEGI evaluation in our rating for Vermont.”
IJC to hold public hearings on study of critical sources of phosphorus loadings to Missisquoi Bay, vermontbiz.com
The International Joint Commission (IJC) is inviting the public to comment on the International Missisquoi Bay Study Board’s final report on phosphorus loadings to Missisquoi Bay on Lake Champlain.

In 2008, the Canadian and U.S. federal governments asked the International Joint Commission (IJC) to help them coordinate initiatives in both countries to reduce phosphorus loadings to Missisquoi Bay. The IJC appointed the International Missisquoi Bay Study Board to help it carry out this request. The study identified specific areas in the Vermont portion of the basin where efforts to control phosphorus runoff would be most cost effective.

In its final report, the Study Board provides recommendations to enhance phosphorus reduction efforts that address a number of issues including the effects of intensive cropping and animal use, phosphorus loads from streambank erosion, the application of local ranking criteria to funding decisions, the need to improve data sharing and availability, and the need for more research on the relationship between phosphorus concentration in soil and phosphorus runoff from agricultural soils.