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Clean Water Advocates Call On Lawmakers To Take Real Action

Taylor Dobbs
VPR File
The summer of 2014 brought widespread blue green algae blooms to northern Lake Champlain, pictured here, and Lake Carmi in Franklin County. Supporters of cleaning Vermont's polluted waterways gathered in Montpelier Tuesday.

Supporters of cleaning up Lake Champlain and other polluted waterways hope a forum held at the Statehouse on Wednesday will bring new energy to their efforts.

The speakers who gathered in Montpelier focused on the theme that everyone in the state should help pay to improve water quality.

Denise Smith, executive director of Friends of Northern Lake Champlain, told lawmakers about widespread toxic blue green algae blooms last summer in the northern lake and on Lake Carmi in Franklin County. Near her in the House chamber were large photos of shorelines coated with pea-green algae. But she said the pictures don't tell the full story of canceled vacations, declining property values, and a smell that assaults the senses.

"These images do not explain or even begin to describe the stench that emanates from the lake for months on end as our lake slowly dies affecting people day in, and day out,” Smith said.

"People are talking about a property tax revolt." - Denise Smith, Friends of Northern Lake Champlain executive director

The blooms are fueled by phosphorus pollution, and Smith says the Legislature has to pass a cleanup bill to reduce phosphorus and nutrients flowing into the lake, its tributaries, and other waterways around Vermont.

"I'm hear to beg you to work tirelessly this year to pass a comprehensive water quality bill,” Smith said. “We are at a crisis point where I live. People are talking about a property tax revolt."

Gov. Peter Shumlin also urged the Legislature to accept the challenge of cleaning up the state's waterways. He told lawmakers that if they did not like his proposed funding mechanisms – which includes a tax on fertilizer – then they should come up with other alternatives.

"The businesses and the farms and the homeowners and the towns in the Lake Champlain watershed are the ones that contributed to the problems that we have there. My constituents did not." - Arlington Rep. Cynthia Browning

"When folks say, ‘How can you ever come up with such a crazy idea of taxing this or taxing that? We got to clean up the water, just make sure the person behind the other tree pays, not me,’ our job is to say, listen, we're all in this together," Shumlin says.

But it may be a tough sell politically. Arlington Democrat Cynthia Browning says her Bennington County community isn't responsible for the pollution.

"The businesses and the farms and the homeowners and the towns in the Lake Champlain watershed are the ones that contributed to the problems that we have there. My constituents did not,” Browning says.

"This is not a Champlain-centric bill anymore." - Rep. David Deen, House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee chairman

Westminster Democrat David Deen, who chairs the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee, says his bill has a statewide focus.   

"This is not a Champlain-centric bill anymore,” Deen says.

Deen says the bill does not include the fertilizer tax proposed by the governor. Deen's bill would raise about $8.5 million through a half-cent increase in the rooms and meals tax and a hike in fees for stormwater permits.

John worked for VPR in 2001-2021 as reporter and News Director. Previously, John was a staff writer for the Sunday Times Argus and the Sunday Rutland Herald, responsible for breaking stories and in-depth features on local issues. He has also served as Communications Director for the Vermont Health Care Authority and Bureau Chief for UPI in Montpelier.
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