(Host) A few hours after Governor Jim Douglas unveiled his permit reform proposal, legislative committees invited the public to testify. South Burlington developer Mack Teeson says his project was held up when a historical artifact was discovered on his site:
(Teeson) “This little arrowhead cost us $60,000 and stopped our project for several months. The point is, I think the permitting process has gotten out of hand and we get carried away with endangered plant species, historical things that don’t have huge significance. This is a delay and it’s an added expense. It adds to the uncertainty of the permitting process.”
(Host) But other witnesses spoke about lax enforcement of local zoning laws and their frustration in trying to fight large developments. Michael Fanin is a Tinmouth selectman who opposes a marble quarry planned by the Omya Corporation. Fanin recalled a recent Act 250 hearing on Omya’s plan to expand a waste site in Florence. He says the residents of Florence were clearly outgunned by Omya’s lawyers:
(Fanin) “These people were facing an opponent well prepared for this before ever making an application. This company had previous experience, they had their experts and data, they were familiar with the board, they had the political lobby, the element of surprise. But most important of all, they had lots of money – the most essential of all ingredients in the Act 250 process. The people of Florence had precious little of this and I found myself thinking, ‘Boy they could use some material assistance.'”
(Host) Dozens of people testified at the hearing, including a staff engineer from the Agency of Natural Resources. John Brabant told the panel he was speaking for himself, not the state. Brabant warned the Legislature not to give the agency more power in permit reviews. He says political pressure can influence agency decisions:
(Brabant) “The problem with moving 250 process to ANR, which is definitely a move that’s afoot – you folks will be seeing the legislation shortly, is that ex parte discussion, discussion that’s not permitted within the Act 250 process, but which works really great if you’ve got an inside track within the administration or within the agency. Ex parte discussion is allowed everyday and deals are cut.”
(Host) The Legislature has just begun its review of several proposals to change the state’s permit process. A bill backed by the Douglas administration will be introduced next week.