Lake cleanup bill includes compost provision

02/26/08 5:52PM By John Dillon

(Host) A bill that would ease restrictions on sewage treatment plants in the Lake Champlain watershed is making headway in the Statehouse.

The bill would also exempt composting facilities from Act 250 jurisdiction. That provision has some advocates questioning what compost has to do with Lake Champlain.

VPR's John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The bill basically rolls back legislation that lawmakers passed last year.

The 2007 version of the lake bill said sewage treatment plants in the Lake Champlain watershed

have to limit phosphorus pollution to 2006 levels.

But the towns complained that the cost was exorbitant for what they said was a small measure of pollution control.

Lawmakers listened. David Deen is a Westminster representative who chairs the Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee. He said many witnesses testified that towns have already substantially cut phosphorus from sewage.

(Deen) ``They also told us to focus resources on non-point source, and we're hoping we're going to see more bang for the buck by putting the resources there as opposed to ... artificially reducing the discharge from the water treatment plants.''

(Dillon) But Chris Kilian, the Vermont director of the Conservation Law Foundation, says the bill amounts to a retreat from protecting Lake Champlain.

(Kilian) ``People have been talking about how wastewater treatment plants are currently a small piece of the problem. And that's true, because we've reduced their discharges by 90%. Allowing them to now increase their discharge back into the lake by another 30%, or another 35%, seems like the most backward step to getting Lake Champlain cleaned up.''

(Dillon) Buzz Hoerr is the chairman of a citizen's advisory committee on Lake Champlain. He says the sewage treatment plant limits were counter-productive, and that money should instead be spent trying to control pollution from farms and other sources.

(Hoerr) ``I actually speak with the voices of literally hundreds and perhaps as many as thousands of citizens who participated in grassroots efforts to advocate for water quality in their various parts of the Vermont side of Lake Champlain. And we hear all the time that non-point in those most critically affected watersheds is what needs to be addressed.''

(Dillon) The bill also includes language that exempts composting operations from review under the Act 250 land use law.

The attorney general's office has told a compost facility in Burlington that it has violated Act 250 by not obtaining permits.

And Hoerr questioned why a lake bill has language that covers composting.

(Hoerr) ``I find it strange that something that casts such a broad net and doesn't have any relationship to anything we've been hearing over the last year or two, I'm not sure why that's even there.''

(Dillon) Chairman Deen said the exemption would not apply to the Burlington facility, because it's already under Act 250 jurisdiction.

But Jason Gibbs, the spokesman for Governor Jim Douglas, said the administration reads the bill differently, and that it could cover the existing operation.

He said the administration does not want the Legislature to interfere in a matter that's now before the Environmental Court.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.

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