Stormwater solution tangled in Legislature

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(Host) A proposal to rewrite Vermont law that controls stormwater pollution is caught up in political wrangling inside the Statehouse. Republican House Speaker Walter Freed says the stormwater problem is primarily a Chittenden County concern, and he wants the Democratically controlled Senate to address the issue first. The Democrats say the House has already started work on the bill, and that it should take the lead on the legislation.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Many Democrats and Republicans say the Legislature needs to rewrite stormwater legislation. They say action is needed now in order to resolve a regulatory impasse that has both blocked some development and the clean up of streams.

But it’s not a top priority for House Speaker Walter Freed. The Republican is from Dorset in Bennington County, and says stormwater is not a big crisis in his district.

(Freed) “For many of us, in my part of the state, I haven’t heard from a single constituent on this issue. I’ve heard from Chittenden County folks and Chittenden County constituencies on this issue.”

(Dillon) Freed says the Senate, which has six members from Chittenden County, should tackle stormwater legislation. If it passes something, he says the House will take it up.

(Freed) “I understand there’s problems at UVM over their expansion due to this permit process. There’s problems in South Burlington over this. And I want to make sure that I convey the message that they’re working with the Senate delegation to get a bill over here to House.”

(Dillon) The question of which body works first on the legislation is more than a scheduling point. The Legislature is two weeks past the date when bills are supposed to have moved from one chamber to the other.

Although the stormwater bill is exempt from that deadline, time is running short. The legislation is still being drafted by a House committee. And Democratic leader Gaye Symington says the House should continue to take the lead. She says the committee waited until the Water Resources Board finished with its comprehensive docket on the science and technology of stormwater management.

Symington says she’s worried that this legislation isn’t getting the attention it deserves.

(Sympington) “What I heard the speaker say was, the House was not going to deal with stormwater until the Senate passed a bill. He said, ‘I don’t need a stormwater bill.’ And I think it’s too bad that the speaker of the House would be so dismissive of an issue that, if you look at the impaired waters of the state it’s not just Chittenden County streams that we’re talking about it. And even if it were just Chittenden County streams, I would think that an issue of this level concern in Chittenden County would receive attention from the speaker of the House.”

(Dillon) A spokesman for the Douglas administration says the governor feels that stormwater is a statewide problem and needs to be addressed by the Legislature this year.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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