FYI, Gentlemen: water flows downhill.

The  Messenger recently featured an article, “Wetland poses sticking point,” which explained some permit problems the Town of St. Albans was experiencing in advancing its plan for a “loop” road to join the Walmart and Price Chopper projects with the City’s nascent Federal St. Connector.  

The issue had to do with deficiencies in wetland mapping and projections concerning future development.

This was followed by an editorial from Emerson Lynn in which he referred to the wetland issue as “nonsense”  and invoked the usual outrage over regulations that make Vermont ‘bad for business.’

Next to chime in was Town Selectboard candidate Al Voegele, who wrote a letter-to-the-editor in which he, too, complained about the constraints on growth imposed by the permit system and pledged to pursue Designated Growth Center status if he is elected to serve on the Selectboard.

Then came Sam Ruggiano’s letter, read aloud to the Lt. Governor at a Chamber event that GMD’s Mike McCarthy captured so well.

(It should be noted here that Mr. Ruggiano’s firm has charge of the “loop” road project on behalf of the Town, and also engineered the Walmart development.)

‘Sounds like it’s time to counter-balance the misinformation that appears to be in circulation with an infusion of facts and rational perspective.

Mr. Voegele is correct in saying that the Town of St. Albans must get state approval for its chosen growth centers in order to qualify for any of the benefits that accompany designation.

It is not sufficient for the Town to simply identify an area as its “Growth Center” in order to make it so.  Even acceptance of the Town’s growth center preferences by the Northwest Regional Planning Commission bestows no more than nominal endorsement.

It is to the state that the Town must make its case, and frankly, there is very little beyond wishful thinking that supports that case, so it might not be a wise place to invest the necessary resources.

Mr. Lynn poses the rhetorical question of ‘where else might the Town grow?’ if not in its designated growth center at Exit 20.

Well, first of all,  the Town has designated not one but two entirely separate “growth centers.”

Both are highway-centric and therefore in conflict with the governing principles established by the state in its growth center vision, but the one at Exit 19 does not represent the same wetland issues as exist in the selected area at Exit 20.  

The very same voices that have most recently been raised to demand that St. Albans Bay and the Missisquoi watershed be restored to health without further delay are now complaining about regulations governing the wetlands.

Do the indignant gentlemen mentioned above not understand that the two are inescapably connected?  At minimum, Mr. Ruggiano, who was trained as an engineer, certainly should.

Those rules that require mapping of wetland areas and that govern their use were established for very good reasons.  As well as representing sensitive wildlife habitat, the wetlands west of Route 7 serve both as a conduit to and a filter for waters that finally end up in the Bay.

As for the benefit to Stevens Brook that Mr. Lynn imagines accompanied the Walmart development: that is pure fiction.

For all the hard-won “protection” Vermont Natural Resources Council advocates specifically extracted in the Walmart development negotiations, this does not mean that secondary development of surrounding lands would represent some kind of boon to the environment.  

Such assertions represent a profound misunderstanding of the science and the nature of discharge permits, each of which represents substantial new contributions of phosphorus and sediment to a watershed already in crisis.

In fact, those protections only limited the new contributions of pollution to Stevens Brook represented by the Walmart project.  They did not improve the Brook, per se.  Furthermore, those measures only applied to the Walmart store and have no implication for other development in the watershed.

Expansion of impervious surfaces in that sensitive area will have an overall harmful effect and further degrade an already bad situation, even should state-of-the-art engineering be imposed to minimize that impact.

We’re already demanding that the farming industry step-up for a cleaner lake.  It’s time for the rest of us to make some hard choices about our future.

If a healthy lake truly is important to us, we will have to learn to require less accommodation from the natural environment to suit our growth impulses.  

At the same time, we must insist on more ecological planning from stakeholder communities in order to accommodate the rich natural environment we are privileged to share.

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

One thought on “FYI, Gentlemen: water flows downhill.

  1. A lot of developers would love to see more rational permitting processes from ANR and other state agencies. The process takes too long, there aren’t enough staff in key departments, and some of their advice is conflicting. However, I can see by doing some simple searching on the state’s GIS maps that there are waterways adjacent to the Saint Albans Town growth center north that lead pretty shortly to Lake Champlain. This ain’t rocket science folks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *