Candidates' Position on the NewVistas Project - Part 1
Gubernatorial and State Representatives Candidates
Sunday, June 12, 2016
On a normal election year, folks around Sharon, Tunbridge, Royalton, and Strafford would talk about their views on education, healthcare, or the state of the economy.
But for the past few months, all people have been talking about are the purchases of land and the NewVista project by a Utah engineer, David Hall. You can read more about the project here.
So I called, emailed, Facebook messaged, emailed again, and again, all the gubernatorial candidates for Vermont, and met some state representatives for our region. Heck, I even emailed Bernie Sanders (he didn't seem to be busy enough these days).
And some candidates answered. Here are their position on NewVista:
Candidates for State Representative for Windsor-Orange 1 (Royalton, Tunbridge)
David Ainsworth (live interview): "I am a little bit apprehensive about it" talking about the scale of the project. "But one of my biggest concerns is the overreaction and putting in a lot of regulations that will restrict everyone else's opportunities to do things. Because this project is as big as it is, and [Mr. Hall] is talking about doing his own mining, it's all going to have to go through Act 250."
"Right now, he is just buying some land, and everybody has a right to buy land if they want to. I can fully agree with people that it is a silly project to undertake in this area" commenting on the topology of the land Mr. Hall has been purchasing.
Sarah E. Buxton (Facebook message): "While I find Mr. Hall to be a pleasant man and believe that he earnestly wants to advance technologies that will help protect our planet, I am not persuaded that his plan to develop an artificial, socially and economically engineered city of 20,000 people in our rural region is laudable, legal, or even likely.
In the short term, local officials and concerned citizens must work diligently to ensure that town plans reflect the vision and values of our communities. Families who have stewarded their land for generations may soon face the untenable position of selling their property in order to live out their golden years with financial security. It is a community-wide responsibility to care for these neighbors and their future with as much gusto as we care for the future development of our fields and forests.
I pledge to work at the local and state level to ensure that any development, if brought to fruition, doesn’t violate our laws, remains consistent with our cultural heritage, and preserves our towns’ rights to self-determination.
Candidates for State Representative for Windsor-Orange 2 (Sharon, Thetford, Norwich, Strafford)
Tim Briglin (email): "I have not seen New Vista's plans for the development it intends to build in Strafford, Sharon, Tunbridge, and Royalton.
From the press accounts of what David Hall has in store for these four towns, his development sounds wildly out of scale for rural Vermont. Here is an instance where we are fortunate to have a methodical development review process in our state.
I expect the New Vista project Mr. Hall is contemplating would be a massive Act 250 undertaking. The New Vista project may also inspire local towns to revisit their town plans to confirm that they are planning for the future they want as well as the future they want to avoid."
Nick Clark (Facebook message): "The New Vista Foundation is clearly a complex and controversial issue, but I'll try to be clear about where I stand.
First off, I think every resident of the towns affected should have the chance to voice their concerns. It might be fair to offer a ballot option in regards to the development of the project in specific towns, but that's something that would develop down the road as the issue unfolds. Thankfully, there has already been at least one meeting of concerned citizens with the Regional Development Board, and articles in the Valley News, VT Digger, and around the state gave the development a lot of coverage, which I believe has helped more people participate in the discussion. I believe it will also make buying up property more difficult for NewVista.
In addition, there are several hurdles for NewVista to overcome as a new development, regardless of anyone's support, and that's local zoning and the Vermont Land Use and Development Act (Act 250). I think this is a nearly impossible hurdle for them, especially considering the site of the proposed project.
Usually the larger the project, the less likely it is to be approved. I believe their first intention is to build some sort of Sustainability Research facility, and they may be able to accomplish that (especially if they renovate existing buildings), but that's a long way off from their full proposal.
I think, of course, that sustainability is important, and such a non-partisan and secular facility, if they lived up to their claims, might be a boon to the area. But I would not support building completely new villages in the hills around Sharon and Royalton. I would not support a well funded organization coming into small town Vermont and buying up our forests. If they want to move here, that's great... but they should do so in an integrative way and with existing communities, and, if sustainability is their goal, in such a way as to help those existing communities become more sustainable rather than plowing down Vermont forests.
The truth is that Vermont's population is shrinking and we do need to retain and attract residents, but I think we can do that without changing Vermont or its landscape. I hope that if New Vista is persistent in going forward with their proposal, they either adapt it to meet the needs of local Vermonters, or they find a new location. Otherwise I feel they're going to have a very difficult time succeeding. They may try, but they may find that, after a long and hard road, they're better off adjusting their goals and donating the land they accumulated to a new state park or a private conservation.
To me, it feels like they're coming into Vermont without understanding Vermont, and that mistake will ultimately prevent their success."
Jim Masland (live interview): I have met with Jim Masland, and had a 45 minutes long conversation about the project. As of right now, Mr. Masland is "quite opposed to the project as Mr. Hall proposes it. I will work with the legislature and TRORC to strengthen our laws, our environmental laws for everybody's benefit." He also added that he cannot imagine Vermonters ever embracing this project. "The governance structure and project is bizarre as hell", adding "you need to surrender your assets and your vote when you move in."
But also added, "Mr. Hall is correct that we are collectively destroying the planet and what we have is not sustainable. We all recognize that." But continued to say that the project as a whole is absurd. "Let's work on strengthening the environmental laws we have."
Candidates for Governor who have answered:
Phil Scott (email): "We all need to learn a little more about this curious idea to make sure it's a good idea for the community and the sate. Generally, we need to find ways to build more sustainable, affordable and economically vibrant communities and perhaps there's a good idea in here somewhere. Like any other developer, they would have to follow the rules and regulations laid out in Vermont's laws, so we'll have opportunities to learn more."
Matt Dunne (email and Reddit conversation): "We must take a thoughtful approach to all major development proposals in our state, to ensure we preserve the character and quality of life that Vermonters so value. There's a reason the generation before us put in place Act 250 so that we have a process for evaluating large projects. As Governor, I will engage with anyone who is a significant landholder to make sure that land remains as open and in use as possible."
When asked about his position on Act 250 on Reddit, he answered "Act 250 has protected Vermont from irresponsible growth for decades. We need to make sure we have enough resources to support Act 250 and allow us to keep up with the complexity of the development proposals coming to Vermont. Fragmentation of our forests is a growing concern in our region and I believe Act 250 should be strengthened to address this issue"
Reddit user, Meowlolzz, asked "thanks you for this response, do you have any opinions concerning the NewVistas project specifically?
With no shovels in the ground the real estate market is overtaken in 4 towns, young adult are looking somewhere else to settle which will have drastic repercussions on town budgets & populations."
And he answered: "I've already been in communication with people in Provo, Utah, who have been facing a similar kind of over the top plan for their city from Mr. Hall. I'll commit to engaging with Mr. Hall, making it clear that the likelihood that a project of the scale and scope he's proposing coming to fruition in Vermont is almost zero. I'll make sure we have regional and statewide development controls. I know this region and area, having represented part of it in the senate. I'll do everything in my power to ensure that the character of the area is preserved."
Update (06/23): Peter Galbraith (Reddit conversation): "Vermont has had its share of eccentric projects and few have gone any place. I doubt very much that David Hall's vision is any different. I will make sure Act 250 is enforced."
When pressed by Reddit user, Meowlolzz, who asked "And if somehow Act 250 were weakened or not enough to counter a project self-advertised as environmental. Would you go through extra lengths to prevent it? Thank you again for your response on this matter." Mr. Galbraith answered, "I will not allow Act 250 to be weakened."
Update (06/28): Bruce Lisman (Facebook message): "I have consistently come out in favor of local control. I support local communities and town planning boards having jurisdiction and doing what is best to meet local standards and the public good."
Update (06/28): Sue Minter (email): "As a land use planner, I have serious concerns about any large scale development proposals, such as this one, that could seriously alter Vermont as we know it. I've been hearing from a lot of people on this, and as Governor, I will make sure that the Upper Valley community has a strong voice in the Act 250 process, and that local zoning regulations are followed. These laws exist so that developments are not forced upon communities without full review and consideration of their impacts."
The other candidates (Paige, Ericson, Lee) have all been contacted twice (May 25, and June 8), but no comments from their campaign has been provided at this time.
I also contacted Governor Shumlin three times (March 24, May 25, and June 9) and haven't received an answer from his office at this time.
And just in case anyone else wanted to contact Bernie Sanders' office on this issue, here is his answer: "While I appreciate hearing your perspective on this proposed project, as one of your United States Senator I have no say in local projects such as this. If you have not done so already, I recommend contacting the Vermont Natural Resources Board, which has jurisdiction over Act 250. I am sure they would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this project. They can be reached at (802)-828-3309. I also recommend contacting your representatives in the Vermont State legislature. They can be reached at the Vermont State House at (802)-828-2228."
If you have any information, questions, or comments, please email me at email@example.com. I also write about other subjects, and will continue posting updates as this story unfolds. You can sign up for email updates HERE.