Updated rules seek to stop pollution runoff from farms

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Agency of Agriculture late last week updated rules designed to slow or stop farm runoff into Lake Champlain and is seeking feedback from farmers and other members of the public during a series of hearings next month.
The filing on May 13 of the Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) Proposed Rule with the Vermont Secretary of State represents the start of the formal rulemaking process during which the public will continue to consider the strengthening of agricultural water quality standards for Vermont farms. A public comment period on the Proposed Rule will be open until July 7, with five public hearings on the Proposed Rule scheduled for the end of June. The Proposed Rule is available now on the agency website: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/rap.
That website is also a place where Vermonters can give feedback on the rules.
“This Proposed RAP Rule, which will apply to all types of agriculture, represents a serious commitment on the part of the agricultural community to enhance water quality throughout Vermont,” said Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross. “The Vermont agricultural community is culturally and economically critical to the state of Vermont, and farmers have shown through this process to date — by showing up and providing input — how they truly desire to be part of the solution for clean water throughout Vermont.”
As a result of Act 64 — the Vermont Clean Water Act — signed into law in June 2015, the Agency of Agriculture was tasked with updating the Accepted Agricultural Practices (AAPs) to further reduce the impact of agriculture on water quality across the state. The RAPs are an updated version of the AAPs, the rules in place since 1995 that regulate farms in order to protect water quality, re-written to a higher level of performance.
The Agency of Agriculture released a first draft of the RAPs last October and took public comments into December. It then  revised the RAPs based on comment received and released a second draft in February and a third draft to the Interagency Committee on Administrative Rules (ICAR) on April 20. The ICAR committee met on May 9 and gave feedback.
The filing of the Proposed Rule initiates the public comment period of the formal rulemaking process. To date, the Agency of Agriculture has held more than 80 small stakeholder and large public meetings on the RAPs to solicit feedback from farmers, stakeholders and the public.
“VAAFM would like to thank the more than 1,800 individuals who attended the over 80 meetings held by VAAFM and our Water Quality Partners since October last year who took the time to provide comments or otherwise participate in this public process,” said agency Agricultural Resource Management Division Director Jim Leland. “The public engagement and participation in the process thus far has been instrumental in developing an effective and workable rule for all farms in Vermont.”
“One of the largest takeaways from the Proposed RAP Rule,” said Leland, “is that while the rule sets strong baseline performance standards, there is the opportunity for farm operators and planners to develop and submit to the agency for approval, specialized alternative management plans to address site-specific conditions.”
He said this process ensures that the proposed RAP rule meets the standards for flexibility and water quality required by Act 64, as well as the diverse management needs of farms throughout the state.
Public comment can be submitted to the agency’s RAP e-mail inbox at [email protected] or by mailing written comment to the Agency of Agriculture at 116 State St., Montpelier, VT 05620.
Five public hearings will be held in June for farmers, stakeholders and the public to provide testimony and comment on the Proposed RAP Rule. The agency will hold two webinars in advance of the formal hearings to present the rules in detail. These webinars will be recorded and available as videos on the agency website following the presentations.
The agency has also made available additional summary materials on its website, including two summary factsheets which highlight the most significant changes from the AAPs to the RAPs. Also posted on the website is a Highlighted Changes Summary which outlines response to comments received on the second draft of the RAPs as well as changes made between the second draft and the proposed rule. The agency website also has an updated timeline which has been posted to outline the process moving forward toward a promulgated rule.
For more information about the RAPs, and the Agency’s efforts to implement Act 64, visit http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/rap or contact the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets at (802) 272-0323.
The five public hearings, all scheduled for 12:30-3:30 p.m., will be held:
June 21: St. Albans Historical Museum, 9 Church St., St. Albans.
June 22: Brandon American Legion, 590 Franklin St., Brandon.
June 23: Vermont Law School, Chase Center, 164 Chelsea St., South Royalton.
June 28: Newport American Legion, 160 Freeman St., Newport.
June 29: Brattleboro American Legion, 32 Linden St., Brattleboro.
The agency will hold two webinars to present the rules in detail. These webinars will be recorded and available as videos on the VAAFM website following the presentation.
Seminar dates are Thursday, May 26, 10 a.m.-noon, and Tuesday, June 7, 1-3 p.m. Register for either at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/rt/5938291152303942401.

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