Lawmakers Introduce Bills To Manage Rivers

01/19/12 7:34AM By John Dillon
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(Host) Lawmakers have responded to last year's record floods with a number of bills that deal with managing rivers.

As VPR's John Dillon reports, one of the big questions is whether towns should be forced to limit development in flood hazard areas.

(Dillon) The high waters of last spring and summer has led to a flurry of legislation.

There are bills that both encourage and discourage gravel extraction from streams.

And there's legislation that requires towns to adopt zoning bylaws for flood sensitive areas with the goal of limiting development there.

The bill now before the Senate Natural Resources Committee uses both carrots and sticks. Towns that pass these new bylaws could get funding from the state. Mike Kline manages the state rivers program for the Agency of Natural Resources.

(Kline) "Towns that have taken steps to address erosion hazards in their communities would be eligible to apply for and get some resources to address some of those needs."

(Dillon) Kline says the floods of the spring and summer raised public awareness that fixing a problem with a river in one place can make flooding worse downstream

(Kline) "I think one opportunity that we see now in the aftermath of the flooding of 2011 is that more and more people are recognizing the nexus between our capital investments in transportation, community development, etc., and this idea of flood resiliency."

(Dillon) But the League of Cities and Towns says the bill contains too many mandates and not enough incentives. Karen Horn is the league's lobbyist.

(Horn) "The idea here that a municipality shall adopt a fluvial erosion hazard area bylaw and if they don't they're going to lose essentially every cent of aid ever given to municipalities  doesn't work for us. That would be called a stick."

(Dillon) Horn agreed with Kline that the floods are an opportunity for more public education - and for more planning to prevent future floods.

(Horn) "I think you have a very teachable moment here. I've been to all the community recovery meetings that they've had around the state so far. People are very interested in this whole issue and how they can prepare in advance of the next event. We don't think there needs to be this kind of draconian approach."

(Dillon) Environmentalists back the bill overall. Kim Greenwood is water program director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council. She says it's a good idea to have teeth in the legislation. In particular, she supports a section that requires the Agency of Natural Resources to assess and map high-hazard areas along the state's rivers.

(Greenwood) "The mapping that the agency has been working on has been moving along quite amazingly, given that it hasn't been mandated. But given, frankly, the realities of Irene that have brought this to the fore, we think it's time for us to take a stronger stand in terms of making this a mandatory issue."

(Dillon) The chairwoman of the committee, Chittenden Senator Virginia Lyons, says the bill will likely be changed significantly to remove some of the mandates.

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


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