Secretary of Agriculture Issues Revised Decision Regarding Farm Best Management Practices In Missisquoi Bay Basin
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On February 3, 2016, Vermont’s Secretary of Agriculture, Chuck Ross, issued his revised decision regarding the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) petition to require mandatory Best Management Practices (BMPs) for farms in the Missisquoi Bay Basin. The Revised Secretary’s Decision makes a threshold determination that BMPs are necessary in the basin to achieve compliance with Vermont’s water quality goals.
“Since my initial decision, Vermont has adopted landmark water quality legislation, Act 64, the Vermont Clean Water Act” said Ross. “The Agency, coordinating with CLF, has responded to this directive from our lawmakers, and my Revised Decision contains a framework under which the Agency of Agriculture and Vermont farmers will continue to work together to improve agricultural water quality in the Missisquoi Bay Basin.”
“I believe the farm assessment and BMP implementation timelines we negotiated in good faith with CLF align well with the implementation plans required by the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and Act 64. I would also like to thank CLF for their forthright collaboration throughout this process as we worked to develop a settlement which will be workable for farmers as well as meet Vermont’s water quality goals.”
The Secretary, in his revised decision, has determined that BMPs are generally necessary on farms in the Missisquoi Bay Basin watershed to achieve compliance with state water quality goals. BMPs are site specific conservation practices beyond those required by the Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) regulations.
In May 2014, CLF petitioned the Agency to impose mandatory BMPs on farms in the Missisquoi Bay Basin. In a November 2014 decision, the Secretary denied the petition. CLF appealed to the Vermont Superior Court in December 2014. On June 16, 2015, Governor Shumlin signed into law Act 64. The new legislation changed considerations that formed the basis for the Secretary’s initial decision. Given the new legislation and CLF’s appeal, the Secretary revised his earlier decision. The proposed revised decision was put out for public comment and the Agency held a public hearing in St. Albans on November 12, 2015 to provide farmers and other affected citizens and stakeholders an opportunity to be heard. The issuance of the Revised Secretary’s Decision today is one of the final steps in settling the CLF petition and lawsuit.
The Revised Decision provides a framework for outreach, education and assessment of farms in the watershed and a process for farm-specific development and implementation of a Farm Plan to address identified water quality resource concerns, where needed. Farm assessments may conclude that practices required by the RAPs are sufficient to protect water quality and that BMPs may not be required due to a farm’s specific characteristics or management.
The Secretary’s Revised Decision can be downloaded offline, or a copy can be requested by calling the Agency at 802-828-2431. The Agency is providing a copy of the decision to Missisquoi Bay Basin farms and stakeholders who submitted public comment. The Agency is also posting notice of its decision in area newspapers.
Revised Secretary's Decision
In May of 2014, the Secretary was petitioned by the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), under 6 V.S.A. § 4813, to require that agricultural operations identified within critical source areas in the Missisquoi Bay Basin, as identified in a certain study, be subject to mandatory best management practices (BMPs), in addition to those required by the accepted agricultural practices (AAPs).
On July 18, 2014, the Secretary held a public hearing in St. Albans to provide farmers and affected citizens with an opportunity to be heard. Written comments were accepted until August 18, 2014. On November 17, 2014, the Secretary issued his Secretary’s Decision denying the CLF request to impose mandatory BMPs on farms in the Missisquoi Bay Basin. The CLF appealed that decision to the Vermont Superior Court, Environmental Division, Docket #175-12-14 Vtec.
On June 16, 2015, Governor Shumlin signed Act 64 (H.35) into law. Act 64 is Vermont’s new comprehensive water quality law. Act 64 significantly modifies state regulation of agricultural operations, including those within the Missisquoi Bay Basin. The new law changes a number of considerations relevant to the Secretary’s review and consideration of the requests in CLF’s petition.
Given the new legislation and CLF’s appeal, the Secretary revised his earlier decision. The proposed revised decision was put out for public comment and the Agency held a public hearing in St. Albans on November 12, 2015 to provide farmers and other affected citizens and stakeholders an opportunity to be heard. The issuance of the Revised Secretary’s Decision today is one of the final steps in settling the CLF petition and lawsuit.
The full text of the petition, including CLF’s rationale for its request, can be accessed at: http://www.clf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/CLF-Missisquoi-Bay-Ag-BMP-Petition-FINAL-.pdf