NEWPORT — Despite garnering thousands of signatures, a petition submitted to have Lake Memphremagog designated a “lake in crisis” was rejected by the Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.
Secretary Moore in her response said that she turned down the petition request for the sole reason that there is no evidence property has devalued due to water quality issues.
In order to receive the designation the agency must determine that the lake has been listed as impaired, the condition of the lake will cause potential harm to the public health and risk damage to the environment or natural resources, and a municipality in which a portion of the lake is located has reduced the valuation of property due to its condition.
Moore says when the legislature created the “lake in crisis” designation, they set a very high bar.
Peggy Stevens, speaking on behalf of Don’t Undermine Memphremagog’s Purity (DUMP), the group which submitted the petition, says that while the Secretary’s decision is disappointing, it is not unexpected.
“The fatal flaw is in the legislation, not in the Secretary’s decision,” Stevens said. “Until the law is changed to eliminate the clause relating to property values, the reality is that property values will take precedence over risk to public health and risk to the environment and natural resources.”
Stevens said she is concerned that the health of the environment, of people, and of wildlife are secondary to property owners’ interests.
The group’s concern over the lake is based on immediate threats to the public and environmental health, including cancerous lesions in Brown Bullhead fish in the South Bay and Hospital Cove, recurring toxic cyanobacteria blooms, and recent findings of measurable PFAS levels in lake waters in Magog and Sherbrooke, Quebec.
In early March, the group started a petition to get Memphremagog deemed a lake in crisis, which received 3,800 signatures.
“The official designation will not change our continued commitment to the work needed to restore and sustain Lake Memphremagog,” Secretary Moore said.
DUMP says they are equally committed to moving forward with their efforts to advocate on behalf of restoring and protecting the lake, with or without the designation.
Secretary Moore has proposed a meeting with DUMP and other stakeholders to clarify challenges, modify current and future planned actions, and identify work that needs to be done.