- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 17, 2017

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Vermont Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday the state remains committed to seeing Lake Champlain cleaned up, even though the total estimated price tag over the next 20 years could exceed $1 billion.

The new Republican governor, sworn in this month, said that “everything has to be on the table” in covering the estimated $25 million annual cost to the state as outlined by state Treasurer Beth Pearce in a report Sunday.

Federal funds and other sources would help cover the overall costs. The state’s share could be paid for over the next two years with existing funds.

At a Statehouse news conference, Scott said he does not dispute that Vermont would have to come up with a substantial amount of money over the next 20 years for the lake cleanup. He said he was hopeful that could be done without raising fees or taxes.

One of Pearce’s proposals includes a per parcel fee on landowners that would be dedicated to paying for the cleanup. The “parcel-based user fee” would be assessed based on the amount each landowner contributed to the lake pollution.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has mandated Vermont clean up the lake, specifically by reducing phosphorus runoff that causes toxic algae blooms. The Legislature in 2015 outlined a plan that relies on several measures, including the management of manure from farms, buffer zones near waterways and ditches, and the reduction of runoff from parking lots.

As part of that legislation, Pearce was required to provide the Legislature a report outlining funding recommendations.

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe said Pearce’s plan gives lawmakers two years to figure out how to raise the money and then figure out how it will be spent.

“There is still a lot of confusion in the Legislature about just what we will do with all this money,” the Democrat said Tuesday in a meeting with reporters. “We know the broad categories around farm-based pollution, roadways, development activities, impervious surfaces, but precisely how we would spend tens of millions of dollars a year over a 20-year time-period is something I think we have to better understand.”

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