By a vote of 89 to 49, the House on Thursday afternoon gave its approval to a resolution that opposes the creation of a special 12,000 acre environmental reserve as part of the Champion land deal.
VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.
The first skirmish in what is expected to be a long battle over the future of the former Champion lands in the Northeast Kingdom took place in the Vermont House on Thursday.
The Champion land project involves roughly 132,000 acres of forestland; the state of Vermont has claim to about 22,000 acres.
The big fight over the state’s parcel involves a plan being developed by the Agency of Natural Resources to carve out a 12,000 acre ecological reserve. Most outdoor activities would be permitted in this core area, except logging.
The Legislature gave its approval to the Champion land deal back in the winter of 1999 but some lawmakers now argue the bill never specifically designated any land as an ecological reserve.
Castleton Representative Robert Helm, who chaired the House Fish and Wildlife Committee back in 1999, said there was no discussion about setting up a special core area at that time:
(Helm) “We wrote legislation that was to pertain to 131,000 acres, not some part of that. Not to treat 12,500 different than any other part.”
But Westminster Representative David Deen, who chaired the House Natural Resources Committee in 1999, said that Helm’s resolution was a blatant attempt to revise the Legislative record on this issue:
(Deen) “If you do not agree with the actions of the Agency, fine. Let’s have that discussion. But let’s not rewrite history.”
Montpelier Representative Warren Kitzmiller opposed the resolution because Kitzmiller says the core reserve land is a treasure worth preserving. Kitzmiller supported an effort to conduct further study of this issue:
(Kitzmiller) “And I have to look at this special treatment area in the Champion lands as being the crown jewel of the woods of Vermont. And I don’t want to do anything to damage them.”
But Newport Rep. Duncan Kilmartin bristled at this suggestion:
(Kilmartin cut) “What is one person’s crown jewel and legacy is for those who are out of work an economic disaster and the destruction of the infrastructure to control your own economic destiny.”
The resolution now goes to the Senate for its consideration.
In addition to the resolution, legislation has been introduced in both the House and the Senate that would allow the General Assembly to alter the conditions of the Champion agreement.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.