Mirror Lake explained
An open letter to Anthony Iarrapino, senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, in response to the article in The Times Argus, “Projects in Calais highlight shoreline issues”:
The Calais Development Review Board and I, as town zoning administrator, were quite happy to read that you and John Dillon from Vermont Public Radio are worried about preserving the pristine quality of our beautiful Mirror Lake. But if you’re looking for support for better regulation of Vermont’s waterways, you’re using the wrong tactics. You evidently don’t know that Vermonters don’t react well to false, sloppy and poorly conceived reporting about issues, like environment preservation, that are important to us.
What distortions? Let me count the ways:
The Dillon story claims that “excessive land clearing” recently damaged Mirror Lake at two different lakeshore sites. But the story identified only one of those sites.
The “land clearing” at that site was not land clearing at all. The Calais DRB authorized the landowner to cut brush (by hand) to a height of no less than 1 foot, a practice undertaken at this particular property every seven years for the past 75 years.
No trees were cut; no roots were disturbed, no runoff resulted, and there was no erosion.
The site maintenance that you and Dillon cite as a dire threat to Mirror Lake has been done consistently since the Civil War, a fact entirely overlooked in your chatter about our lake being widely admired, heavily used for recreation and “crystal clear.”
Clearly, this portrait of Mirror Lake was contrived for some purpose other than saving a natural treasure. The real goal, I suggest, was to further erode the ability of towns to control development and use of our property. Indeed, in the final paragraph of Dillon’s story, you state clearly the motive for the phony concern for Mirror Lake: “... volunteer officials in many of these municipalities aren’t equipped with the scientific resources to make decisions.”
This opinion, besides maligning many dedicated, intelligent, hardworking “volunteers” in favor of replacing them with “professional” state employees, overlooks the fact that the state does already have total authority to regulate the greatest threat to Vermont’s waterways: agriculture. Farm runoff is the greatest polluter of our streams and lakes, from Lake Champlain to the Winooski River. Yet only the state has any regulatory authority over this pollution disaster.
Local volunteer zoning officials do not attempt to make scientific decisions. They enforce local laws, bylaws and ordinances written by planning commissions, approved by select boards and voted on by the populace at town meetings. The volunteers are supported by professional workers at regional planning commissions, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, and state agencies like the Agency of Natural Resources.
This is how our local democracy works, and we like it that way.
Oh, by the way, unlike you and Dillon, we nonprofessionals do know the difference between a zoning variance and a conditional use permit.
The writer is the town zoning administrator.
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