Tag Archives: Quechee Highlands

Scott Milne borrowed a bucket, and he’s going to clean up Lake Champlain

The ever-constipated Campaign of Ideas has pooped out another rock-hard nugget… this time, by way of emailed press release without any live contact with reporters.

And no wonder. Even Mahatma has to realize this one’s a clunker.

It’s a two-part plan to clean up Lake Champlain.

I repeat: “two-part.”

And part one is:

Catalyze the cleanup of Lake Champlain without raising new revenue.

Yes, part one is nothing more than a restatement of the overall idea.

Step two is even worse: he wants to raid an existing fund to pay for a tiny fraction of cleanup costs:

Amend the “Vermont Housing and Conservation Trust Fund Act” to allocate the part of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board’s funds used for conservation to cleaning up Lake Champlain.

(Bold type is Milne’s.)

I've got just the idea for you! Low mileage, runs good, new battery & tires. Don't mind the rust.

I’ve got just the plan for you! Low mileage, runs good, new battery & tires. Don’t mind the rust.

The appendix to part two is renaming VHCB as the “Vermont Housing and Lake Champlain Cleanup Trust.”

And that’s it. That’s his entire Lake Champlain cleanup “plan.”

Okay, a couple of small problems right off the bat.

This would strip VHCB of its ability to do any other conservation work: conserving farmland through the purchase of development rights; helping preserve natural areas, historic properties, wildlife habitat; purchasing land for new parks and wildlife areas; and helping provide public access to conserved land.

— It would provide, by Milne’s own estimate, a measly $7.4 million per year for a cleanup that’s estimated to cost $150 million. In the absence of a comprehensive plan, that money won’t have much impact.

Milne isn’t bothered by robbing VHCB to pay for the lake; indeed, he says there’s no need for VHCB to do any conservation:

Milne said more than half of Vermont’s land is either owned by the state or federal government, or under some sort of easement that prohibits development today.

“I say half of our state being set aside is good enough for the next five years,” according to Milne. “Let’s have this board and these dollars go towards affordable housing and cleaning up the Lake.

Hmm. He thinks there’s more than enough conserved land in Vermont. And this is the same guy who wants to suburbanize a chunk of land off I-89 in Hartford. And who has said he’d like Vermont to take a more New Hampshire-style approach to conservation and development.

Which makes me suspect that Milne wouldn’t like to see any new regulations on farmland or developed areas or wastewater treatment.

Oh, I forgot another small problem with the plan: There’s no way in Hell the feds would buy it. And we’re under pressure from the EPA to do some real substantive stuff. This ain’t it.

I think I see why he slipped this one over the transom and avoided interacting with the media. Even by Milne’s standards, this idea is a real clunker.

(Note: As of this writing, Milne hadn’t posted the plan on his website. I’m sure he’ll think of it sometime.)

 

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Is it just me, or does Scott Milne owe a lot of money?

Kudos to Scott Milne, who voluntarily released two years’ worth of tax returns and other personal financial information. That’s more than Governor Shumlin released, and it’s the level of disclosure required of members of Congress.

His financials did raise a niggling question in my mind, though.

Milne lists several assets, the largest of which are the $2,000,000 value of Milne Travel and $1,699,750 representing a 50% share in B&M Realty, the firm he co-owns with David Boies III.

Then there are the liabilities: $1.642 million. The largest is a $950,000 “promissory note,” otherwise not described. Who holds the note? What’s it for? What are the terms of repayment?

There are also three mortgages totaling $1.38 million; Milne is responsible for half of those, or $680,000. Since he “owns” 50% of those mortgages, and he owns 50% of B&M Realty, I’m going out on a limb and guessing that the mortgages arise from B&M investments.

Let us pray.

Let us pray.

It boils down to a healthy net worth of $2.641 million, but still. We’re talking about a guy whose primary income is his $118,000 salary from Milne Travel. Now, I don’t play in these financial leagues, but it seems to me that Milne is carrying a lot of debt.

And his positive net worth depends almost entirely on the valuation of his two corporate interests — Milne Travel and B&M Realty. Is the family business really worth $2,000,000? Is B&M really worth $3.4 million? I don’t know, but I’d have to guess that corporate valuations are somewhat fluid.

Which brings me to my underlying question. How much of Milne’s finances — the black ink and the red — are tied up in the proposed Quechee Highlands mixed-use development planned for a 168-acre parcel just off I-89 at Exit 1 in Hartford?

I assume that Milne’s 50% mortgage obligations, totaling $680,000, are for Highlands-related land purchases. This is currently undeveloped land; if the B&M project is built, it could lead to a West Lebanon, New Hampshire style building boom in that area — making Milne’s stake a whole lot more valuable.

On the other hand, if it doesn’t get built, Boies and Milne will be stuck with the debt load on those 168 acres.

And the project is in serious trouble, having been denied an Act 250 permit by the regional environmental commission, and being noncompliant with the town of Hartford’s current development plan for the area. B&M has appealed the environmental commission’s ruling, and Milne has spoken loudly about what he sees as the anti-business bias and excessive regulatory power of the regional commissions.

Which makes me wonder how he’d handle Act 250 if elected Governor, but that’s another issue. The question raised by Milne’s financials is, how much risk has he taken on here?

In the past, he has semi-jokingly said that B&M is basically Boies’ money and Milne’s shoe leather. Well, to judge by his personal assets and liabilities, Scott Milne has a lot more riding on Quechee Highlands than his footwear. If he takes office and B&M’s appeal is still in process — which it almost certainly will be — then how would he separate policy from personal interest? Especially with the level of financial exposure he seems to have?

In releasing his financials, Milne criticized Governor Shumlin for offering too little information. And clearly, we have more numbers from Milne. But do we know what those numbers mean?

It may be perfectly obvious to someone who operates on that level, and it may be completely innocuous. But to a humble blogger, this looks like high stakes. And it’s all riding on a regulatory decision from the state of Vermont.

When public policy becomes personal

Let’s look at the two guys likely to headline the Republican ticket, such as it is, in Vermont this year: gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne, and incumbent Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott. Both are men of moderate reputation and widely seen as “nice guys.” Both have shown a disinclination to take hard-and-fast political stances.

But for each of them, there’s one exception to the general tone of moderation. Milne and Scott have each spoken loudly and strongly on one issue respectively. For each, it’s an issue that has left the realm of abstract policy and directly impacted their own fortunes. In the case of our Lieutenant Governor, it’s public campaign financing; for Milne, it’s the approval process for new developments, most especially Act 250.

It’s funny how a personal stake can turn a moderate into a firebrand. But it does call into question their ability to govern dispassionately. One of the most important things I want to know about candidates is this: Can they make decisions based on the public good, even if they’re going against their own personal interest? Can they set their interests aside?

Both top Republicans are in danger of failing that test.

As for Scott, after years of building a politiical career on being inoffensive and avoiding the tough call, he has become a late-blooming opponent of public campaign financing. When he was a state Senator, Scott wasn’t particularly against the idea, and he had his chances. And during his tenure as Lieutenant Governor, he’d never spoken out about it.

Until now, when a publicly-financed candidate threatens to give him a real race. Now he’s decided that public financing is an unfair burden on taxpayers, forcing them to effectively support a candidate they may personally oppose. Which ignores the whole social-good function of publicly financing ANYTHING — roads, welfare, education, police, military. Every one of us pays taxes to support something that we personally would not choose to spend money on. Public financing is a drop in that particular bucket.

As for Milne, he’s hot and bothered over the development approval process because of his big personal stake in Quechee Highlands, a proposed housing/retail project slated for a large parcel near Exit 1 of I-89. (This story was broken earlier this week by my colleague BP at Green Mountain Daily.) How hot and bothered? In an essay published last August in the Valley News, his opening salvo was:

All who care about Vermont’s future, fairness in government and how communities settle disputes should pay heed to what is happening a few miles from the Connecticut River at Quechee Highlands.

Wow. That’s putting it pretty strongly. “Vermont’s future” depends on Milne getting his way on this project. Lacking in perspective much?

He goes on to slam the regional planning commission for denying an Act 250 permit for the project. In the process, he reveals substantial ignorance about the mission and workings of those commissions. Most notably, he wrote that the commissions’ purpose “should be to help promote development that creates a foundation for economic health.”

Er, Scott. Hate to break it to you, but those Act 250 bodies are meant to balance development with conservation, not to promote development. And your little project, I have to say, would be built in an area with precious little road infrastructure. The corridor between Exit 1 and Woodstock is already a mess, and the vicinity of Exit 1 is especially bad. The original proposal was for an entirely retail project, which would have been a traffic nightmare. Milne and co. later revised it to mixed-use, residential plus “less than 37 percent retail.” Which is still quite a lot of retail in a 168-acre development. (The retail is clearly aimed at cashing in on the proximity to I-89. The site is less desirable for housing because of freeway noise.)

At the time, one of the pillars of Milne’s argument was that while the regional board had said “no,” the town of Hartford was in favor of the project. And he asserted that the town’s view should have greater weight.

Since then, Hartford has changed its tune. In May, the Hartford Selectboard amended its master plan to bring it into compliance with the regional commission’s plan. Before the Selectboard’s vote, Milne warned that QH would be “dead” if the changes were adopted. He’s already pursuing appeal of the regional commission’s ruling; he’s now threatening to take Hartford to court as well:

“I’m going to try to figure out if I’m going to do anything, and if I do, it’s probably going to involve more lawyers, and it’s just going to continue to brand Vermont as a bad place to do business,” said Milne.

Sheesh. Rejection of Milne’s project will “brand Vermont as a bad place to do business”? Mr. Milne seems to have an awfully… shall we say, expansive… view of himself and the importance of his project.

And it wasn’t long after the Selectboard action that Milne began publicly mulling a run for Governor, having previously given no hint of ever desiring a political career.

Now, I don’t think Scott Milne wants to be Governor so he can save Quechee Highlands. But it’s clear from his own statements that he has very strong pro-development views. And if he were to become Governor, he’d clearly push for substantial changes in the Act 250 process that would shift its focus from conservation to, in his own words, “help promote development.”

That’s a pretty radical take on Act 250, is it not? It’s looking like Milne is not that much of a moderate, at least on this very crucial issue. It calls into question his ability to dispassionately consider issues in which he has a personal interest. It also calls into question the entire foundation of his campaign, which portrays him as a centrist who can build bridges and work with the Democrats.

The Milne/Boies connection

Big, important, can’t-miss story at Green Mountain Daily: my colleague BP has explained why an out-of-state family suddenly donated $10,000 to Scott Milne’s gubernatorial campaign — and, as a bonus, revealed Milne’s deep involvement in a high-stakes development project in the Upper Valley. It’s a story that Vermont’s professional media has completely whiffed on.

Milne, reports BP, is one half of B&M Realty and Development. The “B” is David Boies III, son of the David Boies best known for his advocacy on marriage equality.

B&M’s big project is Quechee Highlands, a 168-acre mixed-use development that would be built along I-89 near Exit 1. Reportedly, Milne has already invested $4 million in the deal, which has run into trouble with local and state regulators, and Milne himself has angrily threatened an all-out legal battle. Kind of at odds with his pleasant, moderate image, eh?

The most recent blow to QH was a decision in late May to modify local land-use rules in a way that would force changes to QH. That’s what touched off Milne’s threat — and it’s roughly contemporaneous with his sudden and late decision to run for Governor. Hmm.

Anyway, I highly recommend you click the link and read BP’s story.