On September 4, 2015, Vermont’s Secretary of Agriculture, Chuck Ross, issued a Notice of Public Hearing to provide the public an opportunity to comment on the proposed Revised Secretary’s Decision for the Missisquoi Basin.
The proposed decision, which is subject to public input, is an effort between the State and the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) to provide a framework to settle the impending court litigation related to the Missiquoi Basin.
The public hearing will be held on Friday, October 9, 2015, in St. Albans City, from 1 PM until 3 PM, at the American Legion, 100 Parah Drive. It is an opportunity for farmers and other affected citizens to be heard and to give consideration to all interests before a final order is issued.
The full Notice, the proposed Revised Secretary’s Decision, and the draft Stipulation of the Parties for Remand, which contain background and additional explanatory information, can be found below.
“I am pleased that we have made this step forward, and look forward to receiving feedback from Vermonters about this proposed decision,” said Ross. “I am hopeful we can put this litigation behind us, and instead continue focusing our resources on the themes central to the state’s efforts to clean up the Lake: Stewardship, Partnership, and Accountability.”
“We are more than a year removed from when the CLF originally filed its petition and we have a new, comprehensive state law to address water quality,” he continued. “I am eager to receive public input on the farm assessment and BMP implementation timelines we negotiated in good faith with CLF that appear in the proposed Revised Secretary’s Decision for the Missisquoi Basin. I believe they align well with the implementation plans required by the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and Act 64, the Vermont Clean Water Act,” said Ross.
“If, after public input, I decide the Revised Secretary’s Decision is appropriate, we would formally ask the Court to approve the settlement and remand the case,” he added.
Although the hearing is related to the CLF’s pending appeal for the Misissquoi Bay Watershed, it is also an opportunity for farmers to evaluate a proposed blueprint for requiring BMPs on farms in other watersheds, including South Lake, St. Albans, and Otter Creek, which also address Federal EPA and TMDL requirements. The draft settlement has other terms that would become commitments of both the Agency and the CLF if the Secretary decides to implement the Revised Secretary’s Decision and the remand is approved by the Court.
“We believe the operative terms complement the Agency’s on-going, re-focused work in the most troubled areas of the Lake and strike a balance to appropriately hold farmers and the Agency accountable to do our part to improve water quality,” said Ross. “Stay tuned. We expect to release preliminary data from our on-going North Lake survey within the next two weeks.”
As required by Act 64, the Agency is also updating the Required Agricultural Practices Regulations, developing a small farm certification program, water quality training classes for farm operators, a certification process for custom applicators of manure, and preparing a report with the USDA for the Legislature on sub-surface tile drainage.
“We are committed to agricultural water quality and are working hard to implement the intent of the TMDL and Act 64, in the interest of the public.” said Ross.
For more information about the Agency’s water quality initiatives, please visithttp://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality