ANR undergoing major reorganization

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(Host) The agency that protects Vermont’s environment is going through a major re-organization.

Officials say the goal is to adapt to the latest environmental challenges and to serve the public more efficiently.

But lawmakers have questions about the speed — and the scale — of the changes.


ANR Secretary George Crombie AP Photo/Toby Talbot

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Over the past several weeks, officials at the Agency of Natural Resources have briefed each other – and the public – on the reorganization plan.

Here’s longtime agency lawyer Stephen Sease outlining some of the goals for a new Center for Land Use and the Environment.

(Sease) "First, we recommend that permit specialists be located in each agency district office. … We think that one specialist in each regional office is appropriate considering not only their present charge but what we’d like to see them doing in the future."

(Dillon) The plan in the future, Sease says, is to have more staff on the front lines to help guide people through the often-confusing maze of permits.

(Sease) "This would provide a number of benefits, primarily no surprises. If you work in the regulatory field, you know that surprises are bad, from almost any perspective."

(Dillon) This is not the first time that officials have tried to re-vamp the permit review process. Twenty years ago, Governor Madeleine Kunin proposed a system of "one stop shopping" for developers.

But this latest reorganization of the Agency of Natural Resources is much more ambitious – and goes far beyond permit reviews.

Agency Secretary George Crombie has launched the largest restructuring of the agency since it was created in 1970.

The project that Crombie set in motion involves hundreds of employees looking at every aspect of how the agency works and interacts with Vermonters.

Crombie recently brought a foot high stack of reorganization plans – they totaled about a thousand pages – to the legislature. And lawmakers were a bit overwhelmed.

Lamoille Senator Susan Bartlett, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, warned Crombie not to get too far ahead of the legislative process.

(Bartlett) "Some of the at large concern was the speed and how fast everything is coming. I was very clear about my sentiments that something this major, I believe it’s important that two branches of government participate in. And that this just isn’t something that the executive does when you’re taking something this big… and you show at the legislature and say how do you like it?"

(Dillon) Crombie promised to come back and consult with lawmakers in January.

(Crombie) "In the end I want to make sure that whatever we come forward with is the right thing and that it really has the tools that will be viable to manage this agency over the next decade. Because there’s no question in my mind we’re on the edge of very different management of environmental issues."

(Dillon) Leaders of the legislature’s environment committees say they will hold hearings on the reorganization this winter.

Westminster Representative David Deen, who chairs the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee, said the hearings will give the public more opportunity to comment on the plans.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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