WRC NEWSLETTER                                                    APRIL 2015
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IN THIS ISSUE
QUICK LINKS
WRC Commissioners
WRC CALENDAR

April 1, 2:00 pm:

Natural Resources
Committee

 

April 7, 9:00 am:

Municipal Shared Services


 
April 7, 6:00 pm:

Project Review Committee

 

April 9, 4:30 pm:

Community Development 
Committee


April 13, 12:00 pm:

Public Policy & Leg.
Committee

 

April 13, 4:30 pm:

Transportation
Committee

 

April 14, 5:00 pm:

Finance Committee

 

April 16, 5:00 pm:

 

April 20, 12:00 pm:

Public Policy & Leg. 

 
April 20, 5:30 pm:

Planning Coordination
Committee

 

April 20, 7:00 pm:

 

April 21, 5:30 pm:

Local Emergency Planning
(LEPC) @ BMH

 

April 27, 12:00 pm:

Public Policy & Leg.
Committee

 

April 28, 7:00 pm: 

Full Commission

Townshend Town Hall

 

**All Committee Meetings take place in the WRC Conference Room unless otherwise noted.

 

**All meetings are subject to change, please check the website for updates.

UPCOMING GRANT OPPORTUNITIES

Crosby-Gannett Fund (Brattleboro and Surrounding Area)

Deadline: April 15 and October 15, 2015

For more information click here

 

Dunham-Mason Fund (Brattleboro and Surrounding Area)

Deadline: April 15 and October 15, 2015

For more information click here.

 

National Endowment for the Arts

Art Works

DEADLINE: July 23, 2015 

USDA Rural Development - Community Facility Loans
& Grants

DEADLINE:  Ongoing (contact USDA office)

For more information click here.

New England Grass Roots Environmental Fund

DEADLINE:  Rolling
(Seed Grant) and
September 15, 2015
(Grow Grant)

For more information click here.

Vermont Arts Council - Project Grant

DEADLINE:  May 15, 2015

For more information click here

Vermont Community Development Program

DEADLINE:  Rolling

For more information click here.

Vermont Community Foundation

Small & Inspiring

DEADLINE:  August 3, October 1, and December 1, 2015

Special & Urgent Needs

DEADLINE:  Rolling

For more information click here.

Windham Foundation

DEADLINE: May 11, 2015, and August 5, 2015

For more information click here.  

  
Upcoming Grants will be a regular column in the WRC Newsletter, for a complete list please click here
For additional information about grant possibilities for your projects please contact Susan at 

50 YEARS OF WRC

In observance of the 50th anniversary of the Windham Regional Commission, we'll be sharing perspectives about the history the Commission and our service to our towns.


 

*********

The WRC & Act 200
 

Authors: Greg Brown &
Lew Sorenson 

 

In 1987, in response to the rapid growth that characterized portions of Vermont in the mid 1980's, Governor Madeleine Kunin appointed a blue ribbon commission to consider how the state might mitigate such growth through stronger, coordinated local, regional and state agency planning.  Act 250 was already deeply embedded in Vermont's development and regulatory culture, but many public officials and private sector developers argued that a consistent, predictable planning process, based on clearly defined goals, would make Act 250 more effective and more user-friendly for permit applicants.  In late 1987 the report of the governor's commission, based on extensive research and public input, led to a complex, controversial legislative bill that became Act 200.

 

The WRC's Legislative Committee reviewed the bill during the 1988 legislative session, continuing a tradition that dated back to the late 1960's that had earned the respect of legislators through its analysis of draft legislation and for its useful suggestions for revised language.   

 

Four objectives formed the heart of Act 200 when the Legislature turned it into law in Spring 1988:

  • Greater opportunity for public participation in the planning process at all levels,
  • Compatibility of local, regional and state plans,
  • Consistency of local, regional and state agency plans with a common set of planning goals,
  • Greater state financial support for local and regional planning.

To ensure planning coordination, Act 200 included thirty-two goals (later streamlined to twelve) that all town, regional and state agency plans had to address, as well as a thorough but bureaucratic plan review process to verify that these plans were compatible with each other and were consistent with the state goals. 

 

Under Act 200 regional planning commissions were to receive significantly larger grants, and for the first time town planning programs were also to receive state funds.  Though local planning was still voluntary, to earn planning funds town plans had to be consistent with the state's planning goals.  While all this sounded very promising in 1988, a steep decrease in state revenues in 1990 and 1991 quickly led to a cut in state spending, including the appropriations for local and regional planning.    The Legislature's cuts were so deep that between 1993 and 1995 they completely eliminated town planning funds, and in 1994even required regional planning commissions to return a portion of the yearly funding they had already received.  Appropriations for regional planning went from a state-wide high of $1.5 million in 1988 to less than $1 million in 1994.  These actions, though perhaps necessary, handed Act 200 opponents the opportunity to accuse the state of creating "another unfunded mandate".

     

That accusation was perhaps the mildest charge against Act 200.  As soon as the Legislature passed the Act in 1988, it generated a sometimes bitter controversy throughout Vermont between defenders of local control and advocates of greater state influence in local land use planning and regulation.  During the early 1990's the WRC had to walk a very delicate political line between the pressure from member towns uncomfortable with Act 200 and the pressure from the state to serve as a public advocate for vigorous implementation of the new law.  The WRC could not ignore the latter because the state still contributed an important portion of the Commission's annual revenues.

 

A related portion of Act 200 that the WRC and its member towns did not support involved an "Approval Process" that required regional planning commissions to measure the consistency of a town plan with the state planning goals.  Even though the submission of a town plan for "approval" was voluntary, seeking regional approval raised the specter of loss of local control over planning that was anathema to many Vermonters. 


 
Traditionally the WRC had helped towns craft plans and bylaws that expressed the individual municipalities' vision.  The new responsibility to verify that local plans were consistent with state goals put the Commission in an untenable position and fundamentally changed the WRC's relationship with its member towns.  Suddenly, the Commission could become "them" in what towns perceived as a "them or us" conflict.  Since passage of Act 200, the WRC has walked the line carefully when implementing this part of the law, but inevitably the competing responsibilities of assisting with town preparation of plans reflecting local needs and priorities, and then "judging" their plan for conformance with state statute, created a constant potential disruption of the Commission's relationship with its member municipalities.

 

Though the Legislature has amended Act 200 several times, and despite efforts to repeal it in the early 1990's, legislative support and the governor's veto power have prevented the Act's demise. 

 

In retrospect, Act 200 did improve planning in Vermont.  While the Legislature has repealed much of the bureaucratic complexity of the bill, or simply ignored it, several critical portions remain.  The twelve planning goals still keep town and regional planning more or less on the same page, though review of state agency plans for compatibility with local and regional plans has been abandoned.  There is still a process to measure local and regional plan consistency with state goals, but not state agency plans.  Annual funding for municipal planning is still available, though dramatically reduced dollars are now competitively awarded to a relatively small number of towns.  While funding for regional planning commissions has improved since the 1990's, it remains fragile and unpredictable.  The most significant outcomes of the Act 200 saga have been the growth of regional planning commissions' credibility as players in the legislative process, and the reputation they have earned as bridges between town and state government.

WRC STAFF
Executive Director

Associate Director

Office Manager

Finance Manager

Senior Planner

Planning Technician

Senior Planner

Senior Planner

Planner

Assistant Planner

Brownfields Cleanup Loan and Grant
Made To New England Youth Theatre

 

On March 19th, 2015 New England Youth Theatre (NEYT) received a $200,000 grant and low interest loan from Windham Regional Commission Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund.  Previously, in 2013, NEYT received a brownfields clean up grant from EPA.  NEYT will use the funds from WRC and EPA towards a project to improve the overall look of the campus, add an extension to the 100 Flat Street building, and open useable and safe green space at the 100 Flat and 48 Elm Street properties.  Clean up will begin Spring 2015.

 

WRC assisted NEYT in assessing their arts campus due to the historical use of the property.   The theater itself is pollutant-free. However, like many former-industrial site corrective action is necessary to mitigate potential impacts to human health and the environment.  Soils present at the site are contaminated with varying concentrations of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), metals, and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs).  As a result, approximately 1,030 cubic yards of soil will be excavated and disposed of at an appropriate facility.  None of these are airborne or pose immediate public health risks. More information about the project can be found at http://neyt.org/meet-us/environmental-cleanup or contact Naomi Shafer, Director of Development, (naomi@neyt.org) (802) 246 - 6396 x107.

 

The Windham Region Brownfields Reuse Initiative (WRBRI) was established in 2000 with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Since that time WRC has been working hard to promote vibrant communities by facilitating brownfields redevelopment. The overall goal of WRC's program is to restore brownfield properties to productive uses that can range from business, industry, housing, community facilities, and public green space. The WRBRI has funding available to help from assessment throughout the reclamation process.  More information about the program can be found at http://windhamregional.org/brownfields/brownfields or contact Susan McMahon, Associate Director, (susan@windhamregional.org) or (802) 257-4547 x 114.

Southern Vermont Village and Downtown Gathering

Making Things Happen.... 

 

Join us on May 6th to learn that villages and downtowns in southern Vermont have undertaken to bring renewed vitality to their communities.  The Friends of the West River Trail will highlight the steps they took to revitalize the South Londonderry Depot and the West River Trail.  This event will offer valuable opportunities to network with other local communities and regional and state entities.   from your peers the work.

Where:   South Londonderry Depot, 34 West                               River Street, South Londonderry

 

When:    Wednesday, May 6, 2015, 5:30-7:30pm

 

Who should attend: Individuals and groups who work on or are interested in working on village and downtown revitalization in southern Vermont.

 

To RSVP or for more information contact:

Susan McMahon: susan@windhamregional.org  (802) 257-4547 x114

Bill Colvin:   bcolvin@bcrcvt.org  (802) 442-0713 x1


 

To RSVP by Doodle Poll:

http://doodle.com/cq69asube7ecmbf9

WRC Releases Forest Stewardship Report

 

Do you know what threats, both global and local, face our forests and our forest economy?  Are you concerned that climate change and invasive species could change the composition of forests as we know them? we know it? would be better?idered what   Is Windham County really the "Timber Capital of Vermont?"   

 

The Windham Regional Commission's recently-released report, "Landscape Based Forest Stewardship," provides insight into topics such as these, including what strategies exist to preserve the region's forestlands.  The report, available at www.windhamregional.org/forestry, is the result of several years of work by WRC, with support of a project steering committee made up of area natural resource professionals. 

 

With the goal of "keeping forests as forest," the report outlines the characteristics of the region, and what makes our forests, and our forest economy, special, before examining the threats and barriers to sustaining our forests.  Finally, the report outlines various forest stewardship methods and presents over four dozen potential action steps to help sustain our forests.

 

Some highlights from the report:

  • 86% of the region is forested, and 22% of it is conserved;
  • Windham County ranks first in the state for the volume of standing trees, sawlog and veneer log production, and the amount of wood milled;
  • Forest fragmentation from parcelization and development is one of the leading threats to our forests and the viability of our forest economy;
  • the region's population is aging, meaning in the next decade or so many forested parcels will be changing ownership, possibly to new owners with different priorities than those current owners; and
  • Vermont's Use Value Appraisal program provides state-reimbursed tax breaks to landowners and is regarded by many as key to keeping our forests as forests, ensuring sound forest management, and supporting the forestry industry.

Two other documents available on the WRC website are excellent resources and companions to the WRC report.  These are Doug Morin's report on "The Forest Products Industry of Windham County, Vermont:  Status, Challenges, and Opportunities," which takes a detailed look at the economics of our forests, and "Woodlands of the Windham Region-Our Working Landscape," by Rachel Edwards, Anna Fialkoff, and Jessica Orkin of The Conway School in Massachusetts.

 

For more information, contact WRC's Jeff Nugent at jnugent@windhamregional.org, or 802-257-4547, x-111.
WRC Planner, Jeff Nugent gives a presentation to Commissioners on Forest Stewardship in March.

Successful Meeting on Windham Region Municipal Shared Services

 

Over 30 town officials from 15 towns and WRC Commissioners attended a meeting on March 19

th in Townshend to discuss opportunities to share municipal services.  Following brief presentations by Chris Campany (Sharing Municipal Services in Vermont and the Windham Region) and Bob Dean (Franklin Regional Council of Government's Municipal Shared Services Programs) a facilitated discussion on municipal needs occurred.  Participants were asked to identify their highest priorities for their municipality and many exciting ideas were generated.  The top priorities were:

  • Highway Equipment Sharing  and Purchasing
  • Materials and Commodity Procurement
  • Animal Control Services
  • Listserv to share information and municipal needs
  • Information Technology as well as and Webpage Support
  • Assessor Services
  • Policies and Procedure Templates
Participants agreed to meet again in 6 months and have the WRC Municipal Shared Services Steering Committee review results of the meeting and recommend next steps.  The Steering Committee is comprised of several town managers and administrators as well as selectbooard members. On April 7th the Steering Committee met and suggested the following:
  • Develop a Windham Region Listserv for municipal officials
  • Develop guidance and training materials to assist municipalities with sharing of equipment.  Topics would include insurance, agreements and what happens if the equipment breaks down.
  • Develop guidance and training materials to assist municipalities with procurement.

The training on these topics will occur in September after the research and materials have been developed.  It is anticipated that the Windham Region Municipal Listserv will be launched soon.  The Steering Committee is open to all municipal officials that are interested.  Please contact Susan McMahon (susan@windhamregional.org or 257-4547 x114) to serve on the Steering Committee or if you have questions or suggestions about this effort.

Emerald Ash Borer Workshop: Protecting our Infrastructure

 

Just ask the hundreds of communities that have already experienced the arrival of the exotic emerald ash borer (EAB): despite their small size, this iridescent green insect can have devastating impacts to our forests. Within a 6 to 12-year time period, the EAB can cause nearly 100% mortality of ash trees (which is one of the 10 most common trees in Vermont), leading to significant risk to public and private infrastructure, public safety, and our forest communities. Unfortunately, the burden of dealing with the impacts of the EAB falls heavily upon municipalities, utility companies, and landowners.

 

On March 18, the Windham Regional Commission and its supporting partners, including the Windham County Natural Resources Conservation District, the Town of Brattleboro and our speaker organizations, hosted a workshop to assist towns with planning for and responding to the EAB. Presentations were given by Jim Esden, Forester II for the Vermont Forests, Parks and Recreation, Mollie Klepack, Forest Pest Coordinator for the UVM Extension, and Bob Everingham, Forest Pest First Detector, owner of All about Trees and lead entity in the development of Brattleboro's EAB Preparedness Plan.

 

While it may be tempting to wait until a problem arises before addressing management response to the EAB, many towns throughout the northeast have found themselves overwhelmed with tree mortalities within just a few years time, straining budgets and creating a significant risk to the public. Taking a more proactive approach, towns can do some preliminary planning in order to understand the extent of the potential problem through an ash tree inventory and develop an EAB preparedness plan that outlines the town's management approach.

 

How does a town proceed? First, it is recommended that towns put together a team to assess the problem and develop a plan. Town Conservation Commissions and Town Tree Wardens may be willing to take on this task. Once a team has been formed, a typical process involves seeking approval from the selectboard and collecting resources and preliminary information. The team is now ready to conduct an inventory along roads and near infrastructure. A variety of worksheets and resources have been developed to assist with this process.

 

With the inventory complete, the next step is to develop a management strategy outlined in a preparedness plan. Many towns will choose a combination of the 4 main management options:

  • Do nothing, understanding that liability issues likely exist.
  • Remove ash trees before they become infested, which means a loss of valuable canopy.
  • Remove ash trees as they become infested, which is costlier with greater risks than preemptive cutting
  • Treat with insecticides, which is costly but preserves the canopy and allows towns to control the losses or rate of loss.
There are numerous resources available to assist communities through the process of conducting an inventory and developing a preparedness plan. A good place to start is by visiting the Community Preparedness page at vtinvasives.org. The March 18th EAB workshop was filmed by Brattleboro Community TV and may be viewed online. With questions or to receive additional resources, please email Kim Smith at ksmith@windhamregional.org
or call (802) 257-4547 ext 108. 
FROM THE DIRECTOR
 

Consistency of Intent in Town Plans

 

What is the role of town plans in the state's energy generation siting process?  There was a robust conversation about this topic at our March Full Commission meeting.  It was generated by the Windham Regional Commission's review and subsequent approval of the Windham Town Plan.  At issue was the Town of Windham's policy of not supporting industrial wind development on its ridgelines.  The focus was so much on whether or not the town's policies would support industrial wind development that the larger policy position of the town was overlooked.  The town's policies do not support development on ridgelines, period.  Whether you support or oppose industrial wind development, there's an important lesson here. 


 

The lesson of the Windham Town Plan is its consistency in its policy.  What we've learned from the Vermont Public Service Board, as well as the District Environmental Commissions, is that they're looking for explicit and consistent policy statements when it comes to what is and is not supported in land use districts.  For instance, let's say a plan identifies an area as being a significant scenic resource as well as an important headwater protection area, and concludes that the land should remain in a forested state.  This being the case, the town calls this a resource conservation area and takes a policy position that commercial development will not be supported in this area.  What if the plan then went on to support 5 acre lot residential subdivisions in the same area?  Ponder that for a moment. 

 

Now let's say an applicant wants to build a 20 acre solar farm in this area.  The plan states that the town is supportive of renewable energy and only qualifies that support with a statement that the siting of renewable energy projects should take steps necessary to protect natural resources.   The town objects to the application because the solar project would be disruptive to the scenic and natural resource attributes of the resource conservation area.  The applicant argues that the proposed 20 acre solar farm will be designed in a manner that protects natural resources and that while the plan does not support commercial development in this area, it does allow for relatively intense residential development and the 20 acre solar farm would result in less land intensive development than the potential residential development the plan supports.  If you're the Public Service Board, you couldn't be faulted for seeing an inconsistency in the logic contained within the town plan and the position taken by the town with regard to the solar farm application.  If the town is serious about protecting this resource conservation area, why would it allow substantial residential development but oppose a 20 acre solar farm?

 

The same scenario could play out if a town designated an area for commercial or industrial use and then tried to take a position in a plan or permitting process that the same area should be preserved for scenic or other natural resource purpose (i.e., not developed).  The point is that all towns should look at their plans for consistency of intent.  While there is no guarantee that doing so will result in an order by the Public Service Board or District Environmental Commission that is favorable to the town's intent, it is a necessary step to ensure the town is on the strongest possible footing in the permit review process, and possible legal appeals.

 

Of course any town must balance a number of competing and potentially conflicting interests, values and goals when making decisions about land use and how the town wants to develop over time.  Each town also has its own political context.  But what planning commissions, selectboards and citizens should understand is that inconsistency and ambiguity about what development is supported or not supported will result in less solid footing in state regulatory processes. 

Main Street, Brattleboro
1976 

Tri-State Marker
Windham Regional Commission 
139 Main Street, Suite 505
Brattleboro, VT 05301
Phone: (802) 257-4547
Fax: (802) 254-6383