FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
VAST, VT Agency of Transportation and Natural Resources Board Reach a Settlement
Cindy Locke, Executive Director of the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers released the following statement today.
In a letter sent out by the Vermont Natural Resources Board (NRB) in part the following was stated:
Recently, VAST filed a suit with the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB-- an independent adjudicatory and economic-regulatory agency charged by Congress with resolving railroad rate and service disputes and reviewing proposed railroad mergers) arguing that the LVRT Project is preempted. Once VTrans and the NRB became aware of the suit, we contacted the Vermont Attorney General’s office for advice, and for representation in the pending matter before the STB. After considerable review of the matter, and the controlling preemption law, the AG’s office has advised that litigating the preemption issue at the STB, or similar litigation in other forums, presents substantial risks. In other words, the STB could conclude that the State does not have authority to regulate the LVRT Project through Act 250.
In an effort to limit the State’s exposure, and the potential loss of certain conditions currently held within the Act 250 Permit, the AGs office has been negotiating a path to resolve this matter. The conditional Settlement Agreement (Agreement) between VAST and the State puts aside Act 250 jurisdiction, and in exchange, VAST will agree to an amendment to its current lease with VTrans that would include the substantive conditions from the current Permit. There is also agreement between the parties that the remaining state permits currently in place are still valid and required components of the Project now, and into the future.
We have also negotiated a clause to the Agreement that would allow us to post the proposal on our website and to take comments on the Agreement from the public for 30 days. Following the comment period, we could either propose changes to, or withdraw from, the Agreement.
It is the collective view of the State – The Attorney General’s Office, VTrans and the NRB – that the Agreement offers an outcome that strikes a fair balance between preserving the protections of the current Permit (Via incorporation into the VTrans lease) and recognizing the important value of the LVRT as a source for recreation, tourism and economic benefits in Central and Northern Vermont.
Locke states: VAST is very happy to have reached this Agreement with the Natural Resources Board (NRB) and VTrans. As mentioned, the LVRT should be exempt from ACT 250 through the Federal Railbanking program. The LVRT is the only rail trail in the State of Vermont that was subject to ACT 250 and VAST believes that trails should not fall under ACT 250 jurisdiction at all. Those that steward these trails actually do more good by properly maintaining them and their use is a benefit to Vermont as a place of recreation, wellness and education.
Within this Agreement, VAST will still be obligated to follow Vermont environmental laws and we have a perfect track record regarding the work on the LVRT. This was also another reason the NRB and VTrans worked on this settlement together with us. The cost of ACT 250 and the burden of time was the major factor of why VAST petitioned the Surface Transportation Board. VAST has already spent over nearly half a million dollars and the project has been delayed by years because of ACT 250. In addition, VAST alone has spent two million dollars to convert the trail sections that are open. VAST generates $500 million dollars a year in economic impact to Vermont and owes much of this to our over 8000 landowners, including State and Federal, that allow VAST winter trails on their property.
About the Trail: The LVRT is a four-season recreation destination. This spring conversion of the 93-mile historic rail bed across northern Vermont moved into a new phase. The Vermont Association of Snow Travelers’ lease agreement with the Vermont Agency of Transportation to convert and steward the LVRT was renewed for an additional 10 years. Under this agreement, VTrans will provide 80% of the $12-$15 million construction funding necessary to complete the trail. This is contingent upon that VAST raising the remaining 20% from other sources. Consequently, in April we announced a $3 million capital campaign. Go to www.lvrt.org for more info on the trail.