Tag Archives: Lake Champlain International

Lost in the shuffle

In my last post, I mentioned that the campaigns of Matt Dunne and Sue Minter continued on autopilot for a few days after the Stenger/Quiros scandal had broken. On Thursday, Minter unveiled a substantial, wide-ranging water quality initiative, which got absolutely buried in the EB-5 avalanche. On Friday, Dunne released his personal financial information.

It was the worst possible timing if they actually wanted to make the news. Especially unfortunate in Minter’s case, since it was a major policy statement and she had some notable advocates on hand for her announcement — including James Ehlers of Lake Champlain International and Denise Smith of Friends of Northern Lake Champlain.

Well, David Zuckerman also got caught in the avalanche. On Thursday, he announced a significant endorsement: former Lieutenant Governor and State Senator Doug Racine is backing Zuckerman for Lite-Gov.

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So maybe James Ehlers wasn’t such a nut after all.

Not too long ago, most of Vermont’s environmental groups were lining up to give Gov. Shumlin a pat on the back for a strong Inaugural Day commitment to cleaning up Lake Champlain. The notable nonparticipant in the cheerleading was James Ehlers of Lake Champlain International, who saw the plan as inadequate and almost doomed to failure.

Vermont’s waters need more science and less politics. That is what we have taken away from the governor’s inaugural address and the subsequent media events.

… We need and want his plan to succeed. But, sadly, it won’t.

For his trouble, he was cast as the outsider unwilling to accept a pretty good plan that was probably the most that could be hoped for, given current political and fiscal realities. Well, that might have been the nicest way it was put:

To his admirers, Ehlers is a fearless crusader for water quality, willing to speak truth to power — even if that pisses off political officials and establishment environmental groups in the process.

To his detractors, Ehlers is, at best, a bombastic ideologue. Some doubt his motivations, wondering privately if he’s fueled more by ego than environmentalism.

But now, here come the “reasonable” enviros sounding an Ehlers-like alarm.

Shumlin’s [Inaugural] message was celebrated by environmentalists. But two months later, many of the same supporters say the state’s cleanup plan is insufficient to achieve state water quality standards.

“It really doesn’t do much of anything to deal with the several agricultural problems that are present in the most polluted watersheds in Lake Champlain,” said Chris Kilian, vice president and director of the Conservation Law Foundation.

Kilian and others are upset over the Agriculture Agency’s handling of farm-related water quality issues. Ag Secretary Chuck Ross has refused a petition to impose “best practices” on farms near impaired sections of Lake Champlain, and seems more concerned with concocting excuses for inaction than for pushing ahead with an aggressive enforcement plan.

Maybe that’s no surprise, considering that his agency is more of an encourager — and enabler — of the ag industry than an environmental enforcer. As Kilian says, “there is no demonstrated track record that we do share the same goal.”

It’s easy to conclude that the Shumlin administration is ambivalent about Champlain; if not for the threat of the EPA hanging over its head, we’d almost certainly still be in “speak loudly and carry a toothpick” mode. The administration’s goal seems to be devising a plan that will barely be enough to mollify the feds.

Ehlers, of course, was saying so all along. He should be forgiven if he indulges in an ironic chuckle.

Our Proud Heritage of Shit-Dumping

If you happened to be hanging around Fort Cassin Point on Christmas Eve, perhaps you noticed an unusual smell. Perhaps not; but I sure hope you didn’t drink the water.

The State of Vermont legally permitted the City of Vergennes to dump 467,000 gallons of sewage and stormwater into Otter Creek and Lake Champlain on Christmas Eve. Ho ho ho.

That lovely tidbit from the Facebook page of our friends at Lake Champlain International. In case you have trouble visualizing 467,000 gallons of sewage and stormwater, LCI helpfully points out that it’s equivalent to “about 65 tractor-trailer milk tankers.”

Welcome to Vermont, kiddies!

Welcome to Vermont, kiddies!

Mmmm, good. I hope the critters at the Fort Cassin/Otter Creek Wildlife Management Area didn’t mind the state’s creative “Wildlife Management Through Sewage” technique. Or perhaps they’ve gotten used to shipments of Vergennes’ untreated crap, since state regulation of sewage and stormwater discharges is downright laughable — especially for a state with such a strong, and often unwarranted, reputation for environmental purity.

The comments on LCI’s post are often endearingly innocent: “How could this happen?” “How is this allowed?” Stuff like that.

Well, not only is it allowed, but it’s standard operating procedure in our Clean, Green state.

James Ehlers, executive director of Lake Champlain International, …says sewage spills and overflows from Vermont’s wastewater treatment systems are common occurrences.

But the public is only notified when they’re exceptionally large, as was the case in April 2005, when a Burlington sewer line ruptured, spewing millions of gallons of raw sewage in the Winooski River for days before it was repaired.

That, from a July 2013 piece by Seven Days’ Ken Picard, outlining the appalling sketchiness of state policy on releases of stormwater and sewage. By law, he writes, the state is required to post online any illegal discharge that “may pose a threat to human health or the environment” within 24 hours of learning about it — but it may take days or even weeks for the state to learn of a discharge from a municipal wastewater treatment operator.

And while the state is required to post the information online, just try to find it. I tried, and got thoroughly lost in a morass of bureaucratic jargon.

Now, if there’s a torrential downpour, just about any system will be overloaded. But many of Vermont’s municipal systems are outdated. We haven’t faced the issue because, well, we can’t afford to.

This is part of our decades of noncompliance with the Clean Water Act regarding Lake Champlain, and one reason why the EPA has had to step in and force Vermont to clean up its act.

It’s sad, if not surprising. Too often, Vermont fails to live up to its own self-image. We react with horror when new things seem to pose a threat, like ridgeline wind and the Vermont Gas pipeline. We’re much more passive about the bad things we’ve always done, like inadequate water treatment, unregulated junkyards, and the discharge of particulate matter from thousands of residential woodstoves. (The latter is largely responsible for our highest-in-the-nation rate of adult asthma. Not West Virginia or Texas; good old Vermont.)