Act 250 – Making sausage in Montpelier

When I read the news in last night’s Messenger, the cast of characters seemed to step right out of the past for me.

Governor Shumlin has appointed St. Albans City Manager, Dominic Cloud to serve on the Natural Resources Board, which oversees Act 250 environmental regulations in Vermont.

As an alternate to the Board, he appointed former director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC), and environmental champion, Elizabeth Courtney.

“I’m proud to appoint Dom to the NRB, and I am thrilled that Elizabeth will lend her expertise as an alternate member,” Shumlin said. “Both come to the Board with unique experiences and backgrounds but share a love for Vermont and a commitment to our land use goals.”

The appointment of Cloud as the full member and Courtney as only an alternate, couldn’t help but set my mental wheels in motion.

The Messenger story doesn’t even mention Jon Groveman, who now chairs the Natural Resources Board, but served for years as the tireless lawyer/advocate for the VNRC when Elizabeth was the director.

We who fought the battle to limit Walmart’s incursion into our little community feel a special affection for Jon, who even sacrificed his health to the long hours necessary for a single attorney to go up against the phalanx of lawyers the developer and Walmart brought to the table.

Cloud, on the other hand, was an old acquaintance of Jon’s from Dom’s time with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.

When, in mid-appeal, while the City of St. Albans was still a party to Act 250 in opposition to the Walmart project, Dominic came on board as City Manager, Jon expressed optimism that Dominic would be good to work with.

I think no one was more shocked and disappointed than Jon when Dominic quickly negotiated a settlement with the developer and Walmart without even discussing it with us.  

Though we are no longer in touch, I have every confidence that Jon is still the same stalwart of environmental protection that he always has been and I suspect that he and our esteemed Governor have not always seen eye to eye over the fine points.

Dominic Cloud is a natural ally for Shumlin.  Both are ambitious, grandstanding machiavellians who, in their heart of hearts, probably consider Act 250 more of a hinderance than a help.  That they are acting out their respective careers in a state where environmental values still hold considerable sway is inconvenient, but not without its unique opportunities for exploitation.

When he assumed office as governor, Shumlin appointed more than a few people who could have potentially given him problems, to positions in his administration where they would be loathe to make waves.  

Exhausted by his years with the VNRC and optimistic about the new era of environmental engagement promised by the Governor, Jon Groveman understandably accepted a position with Natural Resources.

When, much more recently, a seat opened up on the Natural Resources Board, the Governor, having stumped for Walmart and repeatedly demonstrated his bias in favor of big development, would have opted for an ally to serve those interests.

I can just imagine Jon proposing the eminently qualified Courtney to fill the open seat on the Board, and Shumlin countering with an offer to make her an alternate, but only if Jon would accept Cloud as the full member.

Forgive my hard-earned cynicism; but that’s just the way it looks to me.

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.

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