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To Contain Champlain's Pollution, Shumlin Targets Manure Spreading Practices

Angela Evancie
To contain pollution in Lake Champlain, Gov. Peter Shumlin says he'll provide the money to help farmers change their manure spreading practices. If they don't sign on to this plan, Shumlin wants to kick them out of the state's Current Use Program.

Gov. Peter Shumlin says his new Lake Champlain pollution plan contains a "carrot and stick" approach to control water pollution from dairy farms.

The carrot is money. The governor says he'll provide funds to help farmers do a better job handling manure.

But if they continue to pollute, he wants to kick them out of a program that reduces their property taxes. That’s the stick.

Implementing a comprehensive plan to deal with the toxic algae blooms in Lake Champlain was a key part of Shumlin's inaugural address on Thursday afternoon.

Shumlin proposed an additional $20 million in state and federal funds to encourage farmers to make major changes in their manure spreading practices. The governor thinks the incentive plan will be successful because he says most farmers want to do the right thing.

"Why should we give someone a property tax reduction when they are willfully polluting the lake?" - Gov. Peter Shumlin

"It's changing tilling practices, it's moving to low till practices, not spreading manure in all of the ways that we're doing it and making some changes there, and the second is fencing, it's fencing livestock out of the water and the rest,” said Shumlin. “What my plan will do is raise the money to partner with them to give them the resources they need to do the right thing." 

But if the farmers don't respond to the administration's plan to reduce pollution the governor says they shouldn't be allowed to participate in the state's Current Use Program - that's a program that taxes farm land based on its agricultural value and not it's development value.

"Now most farmers are in the Current Use program they pay 200, 300 percent less for property taxes than they would if they weren't,” said the governor.Their neighbors are subsidizing that program, or helping to pay for it, why should we give someone a property tax reduction when they're willfully polluting the lake?" 

Shumlin says his plan is very different from the approach taken by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. He says he's trying to convince the EPA that its proposal for towns to spend hundreds of millions of dollars upgrading wastewater treatment plants near the lake, is not a cost effective thing to do.

"And the scary part is, the foolish part is, that contributes three percent of the pollution to our lake. So you wouldn't be solving 97 percent of the problem you'd still have blue green algae you'd still have blooms you'd still have stink,” said Shumlin. “So that's why this is so critical to both Vermont's quality of life and economic future."  

Shumlin's plan also includes a tax on agricultural fertilizers and a new impact fee on commercial and industrial parcels that are located within the lake's watershed area.