BFP editorial - Act 250, raw politics, those who would weaken - Ewing
Raw politics Three strikes and batters are out. Judging from the state Environmental Board's two recent retreats from basic principles underlying Act 250 the state's development control law fair play is not only almost out, it's being replaced by raw politics. Today, the board hears oral arguments in a third major development case in a month affecting northwestern Vermont a proposed St. Albans Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart. The public can only cross its fingers that this time the outcome will be different. In the two recent decisions, the board didn't bother throwing strikes at all. It threw beanballs on the way to giving developers most of what'they wanted playing loose with its own past rulings, the record and in some cases Act 250 itself. Knocked flat by these dustoffs: the public. In a decision favoring the proposed Williston Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart, the board, chaired by Robert Opel of Montpelier, reduced by one-third one-third one-third the road improvements it had required earlier. No logical rationale, rationale, no clear explanation. Total savings to Wal-Mart Wal-Mart Wal-Mart and its friends in Williston town government: more than $12 million. Why? Because the board, in responding to Wal-Mart's Wal-Mart's Wal-Mart's appeal, decided past language requiring six lanes under the Exit 12 Interstate 89 bridge could be read to mean four. Never mind previous testimony. Strike two was approval of a 221 -unit -unit housing development off Dorset Street. That time the board's bad decision was chaired by Arthur Gibb of Weybridge (who, as one of Act 250's architects, should know better). It approved the project despite blatant conflict with local and regional plans a major Act 250 criterion declaring strict conformity with the law unnecessary. If the Vermont Supreme Court lets that new principle stand, Dorset Street will not only get a bad development, Vermont will lose its development control law. Today, the board, again chaired by Gibb, will hear arguments in an appeal of its earlier rejection of a St. Albans Town Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart. If that decision goes the same way, Wal-Mart Wal-Mart Wal-Mart won't just be closer to breaking ground in Williston, it will be turning dirt to the north even sooner. There's something even more disturbing here. Look around for people who might normally be saying "Wait a minute!" when Vermont's environmental review laws are being politicized, and they're nowhere to be found: Gov. Howard Dean is busy running for re-election re-election re-election on the theme of making Vermont friendlier to business. His secretary of Natural Resources, Barbara Ripley, is busy rewriting and reinterpreting Vermont air and water pollution rules to favor business. Dean's new chairman of the Environmental Board John Ewing is so busy streamlining Act 250 to appease critics of Act 250 that he's lost sight of the law's purpose: to enable Vermonters to determine the shape of their neighborhoods. Key environmental lawmakers are making the same mistake r from Democratic Curt McCormack of Rutland City and Republican Robert Helm of Castleton in the House to Republican Matt Krauss of Barre City in the Senate. There has always been room in Act 250 for interpretation, and there should be. This is part citizen review board, part regulatory . board, after all not strictly a court of law. However, if this careless retreat from the core principles of Act 250 continues, the public's last line of defense will be just that the courts or no defense at all, at far greater expense to everybody taxpayer and developer alike. In short, the time has come for Ewing, if not Dean, to see the collective risks this environmental indifference is now raising and say: "Wait a minute!"