By Representative Kate Webb
Representative Lenes and I receive requests from our community regarding personal, local, and state as well as global issues. With 14 committees in the House and 11 in the Senate, the legislature is well designed to hear concerns, from large to small, and from personal to far-reaching issues important to Vermont citizens.
Here are two recent concerns from Shelburne residents: 1) prohibit the sale of ivory in an effort to reduce the slaughter of elephants and rhinoceroses, both on a road to extinction within a decade; and 2) find a way to stop or reduce the impact of the salt shed storage facility slated for development in Shelburne.
Ivory first. Last year, inspired by the leadership of Shelburne residents Ashley McAvey and Laurel Neme, students from Shelburne’s Renaissance School came to the Statehouse to speak for elephants and identify a role Vermont could play in their survival. One student, Taegan Yardley, now at Vermont Commons, created a video inspired by her desire to help.
Students and experts pointed out that reducing the value of ivory could perhaps avoid the tragedy of elephants becoming extinct within ten years. Advocates argued that as world citizens, we have an obligation to do everything in our power to save one of the icons of the animal world from extinction. Devaluing ivory is the best way to do this. Plus, it would remove a major funding source for criminals and terrorists operating in Africa.
A new federal Endangered Species Act rule limits the sale of ivory between states, but loopholes continue to exist within state boundaries. Individual states are now stepping up to restrict the sale of ivory within their borders. Last Friday, on a vote of 135-4, the House advanced a bill to join New York, New Jersey and California in closing the intrastate loophole. The Vermont bill would restrict the sale of antique ivory weighing more than 200 grams – about the weight of a set of piano keys – staring in 2018. The bill is now in the Senate.
Second, the Vermont Railway (VTR) salt sheds. Members of the community have contacted Representative Lenes and me asking us to help in addressing town and community concerns regarding the proposed salt shed transfer station. In an effort to better understand how we might help, we convened a hearing with a particular emphasis on how federal railroad law intersects with state and local law. Two legislative lawyers with expertise in transportation and environmental law guided us through a general description of this rather complex relationship. Our Shelburne Town Manager, the designing engineer for the railroad, the Nature Conservancy and an environmental analyst from the Department of Environmental Conservation stormwater program testified as to more specific aspects of the Shelburne facility. A copy of the recording of the meeting was given to the Shelburne News, the Town Manager and Vermont Railways.
As a result of the two hour hearing and pressing questions, I was left believing that 1) federal law would probably preempt state and local regulation, 2) the railroad was working to comply with state law even though it did not have to and 3) the clearing of the 19 acres followed the Accepted Management Practices and a notice for “heavy cutting” of trees is only required for 40 acres or more. I was also left with a general frustration that the process did not trigger an earlier conversation. Very often, relationship can trump law.
The Town and some very savvy members of our community are working through legal action to stop, slow or influence development, asserting that federal preemption may not be as complete as is currently assumed. VTR has also started a conversation with the Town that could move the project, likely at considerable expense, from Shelburne to a site in South Burlington. It is worthy of discussion.
Representative Lenes and I will continue to engage in a dynamic conversation with VTR, the Town and the State in an effort to achieve as little environmental and traffic impact as possible should the project move forward in Shelburne.
I am also looking into general notice requirements that, under different standards, might have triggered a public hearing earlier in this process.
Please feel free to contact me by email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (802) 233-7798. I am also generally available to meet on Mondays by appointment in Shelburne or Tuesday-Friday in Montpelier.