News Briefs

News Briefs: Lakes Region

By Lani Duke

Clean Water rules to affect more farms

Farmers await new Vermont water quality rules with trepidation. No longer do restrictions apply only to dairy farms, but, if drafted rules receive approval, new Agency of Agriculture rules will apply to all, whether livestock or vegetable and other crops. Enforcement won’t be immediate; farmers will have time to make some improvements.

Under the current permitting program, 170 farms were required to be certified and inspected. The proposed rules expand that figure to add 1,500 small farms subject to inspection once every seven years. That includes vegetable farms with more than 50 acres in production.

There are still some complexities. Farmers with fewer than 50 cows still need not certify, but must follow the new rules and be regulated by the Agency; so must all livestock, vegetable, and other crops. Backyard livestock, like chickens or a few cows or horses, is under the authority of the municipality in which they are situated.

Although the Clean Water Fund that the new law creates includes money to add five small farm specialists to the agency, that additional staffing may prove insufficient.

Wastewater Treatment insufficient?

WEST PAWLET—Water tests of emissions from the West Pawlet Wastewater Treatment Facility, Railroad St., West Pawlet, have resulted in nine violations since last Dec. 11. If the plant were officially declared to be in “significant noncompliance,” the result would be fines and even greater scrutiny. The consensus of a study group is that too many suspended solids do not settle out during the treatment process; they then block UV treatment, leaving bacteria alive. Rotating biological contactors or filters seem to be bound with solids. As a stopgap measure, the plant may add a polymer to bind and settle the solids while a longer term solution is developed. Green Mountain Engineering of Williston is committed to making the plant fully operational and serving the town.

Archaeology on Bald Mountain

WEST HAVEN—Castleton professors Matt Moriarty and Paul Derby have been leading a team of local archaeologists, Castleton students and volunteers in excavating Phase I test pits to identify site boundaries for a Native American campsite at the Nature Conservancy’s Helen W. Buckner Preserve on Bald Mountain in West Haven. They hope to date the site’s occupation and identify potential activity areas.

The South Champlain Historical Ecology Project (SCHEP) is designed to examine long-term patterns in human-environment interactions within the southern Lake Champlain basin. Castleton partnered with the Vermont Archaeological Society (VAS), the Nature Conservancy, and the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation for the project. The non-profit, academic endeavor, initiated in 2016, is funded by grants from the Vermont Community Foundation’s South Lake Champlain Fund, Castleton University, and VAS.

Students have the “opportunity to participate in an ongoing research project,” Moriarty commented, adding that the hands-on experience helps promote the protection and preservation of cultural resources. Students learn archaeology fieldwork skills and help analyze artifacts as independent study projects.

SCHEP is planned to grow into a multidisciplinary collaboration among a wide range of specialists and interested parties. Dig results will be recorded with appropriate agencies and organizations  to be studied for conservation and future protection of cultural resources.

Act 21: towns may eliminate lister positions

A few Vermont towns have adopted a charter provision to eliminate the elected office of lister and to hire an assessor instead. Being able to do so apparently had previously been legal if the town changed its charter, but doing so without a charter change became legal only as recently as the 2013 state legislative session.

Act 21 gave towns the ability to first approve an article to eliminate the office at the annual town meeting. Such a vote would become legal 45 days after that vote or as soon as the Select Board appoints an assessor, and would remain in force until a municipality votes otherwise.

Towns may either hire an assessor under contract or as a municipal employee. An assessor need not be a resident of the town.

The provisions that the state had set up for electing a board of listers seem to have relatively little applicability to the Vermont of today. Finding three people who will stand for election and undertake the strenuous training needed, let alone dedicate enough time throughout the year to serve as a lister, is not easy.

However, being a lister may be easier than it was, as first conceived. In 1778, all inhabitants were to write down “a true account of all their listable polls, and all their rateable estate.” The listers then studied and validated the list.

Earliest “grand lists” were more detailed than those of today. At one point, the list contained four different categories of cows, each bearing a different value. Because the grand list was to be kept current, it was an accurate estimation of each person’s ability to pay. According to the Lister’s Handbook, “In 1797, for example, mules and jackasses, house clocks not made of wood, gold watches, and other watches were added to the list. Although money on hand was always listed, by 1825 stock in corporations was added, and by the middle of the century we listed distilleries, pianos, organs, pleasure wagons, carriages, sleighs, dogs, and swarms of bees.”

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