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Springfield forum mulls Act 250 rules

Springfield, Vt. – Ecosystem protection and economic development were viewed as the most important factors to consider in the Act 250 permitting process by nearly 45 percent of those who attended a Wednesday night forum.

Settlement patterns were scored as a top priority by 14 percent, but scenic beauty and agricultural and forest productivity, while important, did not receive a priority ranking from anyone.

The forum, attended by about 30 people, was the first of six that the Legislative Commission on Act 250 will hold throughout the state, including one on July 25 in Randolph. After the last forum, on Sept. 12 in Burlington, the commission will write a report using the public input and present it to the state Legislature by Dec. 15.

State Rep. David Deen, D-Putney, said with Act 250 – enacted in 1970 – turning 50 in two years, now is a good time to evaluate what is and isn’t working with the landmark environmental law.

“It is an opportunity to decide what we want Vermont to be in the next 50 years and this will help us reach our vision for Vermont,” Deen said.

The forum, facilitated by Cope and Associates, a management consulting firm in Williston, Vt., broke the attendees into groups to discuss and rank criteria related to the goal of Act 250, which is to protect the environment by regulating development while also allowing for economic growth.

The facilitators with each group first laid five cards on the table with the criteria on each one and initiated a discussion with the goal of reaching a consensus on what was most important. While scenic beauty and agricultural and forest productivity did not rank first with any group, it may likely have placed second or third.

Several people said all the criteria were important and none should be ignored during an Act 250 permit review.

“I look at these and I can say they are all important,” said Annette Smith, of Danby, Vt.

Jack Smith, of Springfield, said the rankings could change depending on the project, such as a wind farm or ski resort development.

“Take the sequence (of the criteria) on the merits of the plan,” Smith said.

There were only a few comments about the length of time before a permit is either denied or approved. Bob Kischko, of Springfield, said some developers have thrown in the towel because it ends up costing too much for the Act 250 review. According to the commission, 95 percent of the applications are approved, with conditions, and 50 percent are approved within 30 days.

One women said scenic beauty is what draws people to the state and it is important not to allow economic development in a way that would harm what people cherish about Vermont.

But Walter Martone wondered what direction Vermonters want their state to go.

“Do we want Vermont frozen in time or do we want to evolve?” asked Martone, of Springfield.