Won’t refund it if Burlington wins big PCB lawsuit against Monsanto
By Guy Page
The Vermont House of Representatives decided last Friday Vermont taxpayers must spend $16 million on Burlington’s new high school, even if the state’s largest school district wins big on a lawsuit meant to defray the construction cost.
Burlington is demolishing its 60-year-old high school on North Avenue because PCB contamination is within the acceptable federal level but higher than the accepted state level. The $165 million demolition/new construction program is behind schedule and will likely cost more. In an effort to spare local taxpayers, the school district is suing Monsanto, an international mining and chemical conglomerate, for PCB-related damages.
In another effort to spare local taxpayers, the House introduced on March 21, H.486, granting $16 million of state education funds to the Burlington School District “to reimburse the school district for the costs of demolition and removal of PCB contamination at Burlington High School.” It also creates a PCB school study committee and allocates $29.5 million to unspecified – and presumably not named BHS – schools for PCB testing and remediation.
A Republican lawmaker and longtime high school coach and educator from Swanton tried to amend the Burlington-friendly bill: if the big Monsanto lawsuit pays off, how about restoring up to $16 million to the state, taxpayer-funded, Education Fund?
Rep. Matt Walker’s amendment said: “If the Burlington School District is awarded damages in any litigation forthe remediation of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) at Burlington High School, the Burlington School District shall reimburse the State for any damages awarded to the School District for the costs of demolition and removal of PCBs from the High School up to the amount of the grant awarded to the Burlington School District.”
Not happening, 98 of Walker’s fellow House members decided. In addition to granting the $16 million for old BHS PCB remediation, they refused to require Burlington to refund $16 million in high school construction grant money if the school district wins its PCB lawsuit.
Last Friday’s roll-call vote was 41 Yes, 98 No. The roll call was requested by Rep. Casey Toof (R-St. Albans), a member of the House Education Committee and longtime youth sports coach who holds a Castleton State degree in Education.
Of the 41 ‘yes’ votes, three were Democrats – Tim Corcoran of Barre, John Arrison of Weathersfield, and Kristi Morris of Springfield. The rest were Republicans or independents. Of the 98 ‘no’ votes, none were Republicans.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where Democrats and progressives hold all seven Chittenden County seats in the 30-seat upper chamber.