Agency looks at possible sprawl rule violation

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(Host) The state Agency of Natural Resources wants to know whether the city of Newport has violated rules designed to prevent sprawl.

The issue concerns an expansion of the city’s sewer treatment capacity – and whether that capacity will be used for a Wal-Mart project outside of downtown.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) When it comes to new development, sewage projects are often the essential piece of infrastructure. Where sewer lines go, sprawl may soon follow.

The state offers low-interest loans for sewer projects. But state policy is supposed to discourage sprawl and promote development in downtowns.

So a state rule says towns and cities that get these low-cost loans have to show that the projects won’t promote scattered development.

The city of Newport made that claim 18 months ago when the state granted a $4-point-3 million loan to upgrade and expand the sewage plant. City officials promised the state that the extra sewage capacity would be used within city limits.

But now Newport wants to use half that new capacity to serve a shopping area in nearby Derby that will include a new Wal-Mart.

Newport City manager John Ward says he doesn’t believe the project promotes sprawl

(Ward) “We have a neighboring community that needs some allocation. We have a sewer plant, we have a pipe that runs up that road that businesses already use and they want to plug in a few more businesses. To say that contributes to sprawl, I don’t really believe it’s contributing to sprawl.”

(Dillon) The state Agency of Natural Resources learned of the potential problems with the sewer loan money from the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental group with offices in Montpelier.

Attorney Sandra Levine read in a local newspaper that Newport was negotiating to sell sewer capacity to serve the new development. Levine says that clearly violates the state’s anti-sprawl rules.

(Levine) “When our tax dollars are used for sewer projects that sewer should not be serving sprawl development outside of town. That’s exactly what’s happening here. These rules are being ignored and Wal-Mart and sprawl are being given a hand-out by the state.”

(Dillon) The Agency of Natural Resources is looking into whether the rules were violated. John Sayles, the agency’s deputy secretary, says Newport has not told the state that its sewage plans have changed.

But John Ward, the Newport city manager, says he doesn’t believe the city broke any rules.

(Ward) “No, I don’t see it as a violation. But there again, I’m not an attorney. That’s what the Conservation Law Foundation, I’m sure if we’re violating some little regulation, they’ll make sure that we don’t.”

(Dillon) Ward says the sewer line serves an area of Route 5 that is already heavily developed. He says the city wants to protect its downtown retail shopping district.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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