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Arthur Gibb, 97, Vt. legislator, pioneer of environmental law

MONTPELIER -- Arthur Gibb, considered the father of Vermont's pioneering environmental law known as Act 250, died Tuesday at the age of 97.

''For his vision and commitment to the stewardship of our natural resources, we will always be grateful," said Governor James Douglas.

''Art Gibb was a solid and insightful man to whom I frequently turned to for guidance," said Senator James M. Jeffords, Independent of Vermont, who was attorney general in 1969 during the fight against uncontrolled second-home development in southern Vermont.

''He was a true steward of the environment long before the term became popular," said Jeffords.

Mr. Gibb, an investment banker, moved to Weybridge in 1951 to farm.

In 1962 he entered politics, winning election to the State House as a Republican. He was serving on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee when a vacancy for the chairmanship of the House Natural Resources Committee opened up.

Mr. Gibb asked House Speaker Richard Mallary whether he could have it -- and Mallary agreed.

The move placed the outdoors enthusiast in a critical role at a critical time.

In 1969 newly-elected Governor Deane Davis realized southern Vermont was under siege from eager developers who cared solely about profit.

Davis, also a Republican, turned to Mr. Gibb and asked him to chair a special commission to examine the problem.

''We wanted strong controls," said Mr. Gibb in an interview. ''The question was how to do it."

Out of the Gibb Commission came the framework for Act 250, passed in 1970. The law details the 10 criteria by which all development is reviewed. Those criteria, which cover such issues as water quality, soil erosion, traffic, and scenic quality, have stood the test of time.

John Ewing, a longtime chair of the state Environmental Board, said the 10 criteria ''are a remarkable statement of what Vermont is all about."

The law also created a system of local district commissions, made up of laypeople, to review development plans, with appeals made to a statewide board.

''I really don't think anyone had a larger impact on Act 250 than Art," Ewing said.

''He had not only this tremendous sense of the history of the state and the history of Act 250, but he had a judgment that was always reasonable," Ewing said. ''Just a very remarkable gentleman."

Mr. Gibb moved to the Senate in 1971, representing Addison County and serving until 1987. In the Senate he championed countless environmental initiatives. More than that, though, he was known as a no-nonsense lawmaker who put the state above party politics.

His love of the outdoors was limitless. He would often commute to the State House via the Middlebury gap, stopping for a quick ski on the way. Douglas recalled that Mr. Gibb would campaign throughout Addison County on a bicycle.

The governor also said Mr. Gibb was highly popular in his district, noting that in 1972 Douglas ran for the House seat that Mr. Gibb had held until 1971.

''I remember quite vividly campaigning in 1972, the first time I ran, and a number of voters, when I asked for their support, responded by saying: 'Oh, I can't vote for you. I'm for Art Gibb.' I had to explain to them that he was our senator and they could vote for both of us," Douglas said.

After retiring from the Senate, Gibb served on the state Environmental Board, including a brief stint as chairman.

Mr. Gibb's portrait hangs in the State House. He is one of only three former lawmakers to be so honored.

The large portrait hangs on a wall off the House chamber. He is shown sitting outside, and most of the painting is a colorful landscape, with flowers, fields, and mountains.

''I think it is telling that most of the portrait is a landscape of Vermont," Douglas said.

In 1998, in an interview with the Associated Press on his 90th birthday, Mr. Gibb said Act 250 had played a crucial role in saving what makes Vermont special.

''It leads to responsible development," he said. ''When you think of the irresponsible development we had in 1969. . . . Thank God for Act 250."

Funeral arrangements were pending.

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