Water quality group release final report, critics decry lack of funding

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) A group charged with finding money to clean up Vermont's waterways released its final report. Some lawmakers and advocates say the group hasn't done its job.

"Deja vu all over again. This is the third time that the legislature has asked for specific recommendations in order to underwrite addressing clean water," said Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster.

Instead of finding new funding sources, the Act 73 Working Group says the state can use the capital bill through fiscal year 2021. The group's chairwoman, Vermont Secretary of Natural Resources Julie Moore, says it's too soon to find revenue sources. "Part of the challenge is it may be far more complicated than the Legislature envisioned in drafting Act 73. We realized there are a number of unanswered questions as we delved into the issue," she said.

The EPA says Vermont must clean its waterways. Treasurer Beth Pearce provided a two-year window to come up with a long-term funding plan using the capital bill. The working group proposes to use capital funds even longer.

"We've identified funding that will carry us through the end of fiscal year 2021, recognizing that after fiscal year '21 a combination of stress on the capital bill -- competing demands for capital dollars, coupled with permit requirements that kick in in those out years -- will increase the demand for funding," Moore said.

Moore says a funding source the group explored -- a per-parcel fee on properties -- was not feasible. It would cost $5 million to raise $25 million. "What we found was the administration costs were disproportionate to the amount of revenue we believe needs to be raised," she said.

Key lawmakers like Rep. Deen say they are now poised to move forward on their own. "The legislature may be at the point of taking some direct action itself in terms of a clean water authority or clean water utility and just moving forward. We can't wait," he said.

Clean water advocates, like the Vermont Natural Resources Council, say lawmakers should move forward. "What they should do is what the working group should have done -- is introduce a bill that put in place a funding source and how we're going to collect that money and make decisions about getting that money out for water quality projects," said VNRC's Jon Groveman.

But finding that funding source will be lawmakers biggest challenge.