ANR faults transportation agency in damaging wetlands

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(Host) The Vermont Agency of Transportation is in trouble with another arm of state government. The Natural Resources Agency is investigating an incident this spring in which one of its contractors apparently filled in part of a state-protected wetland.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) This spring, the Transportation Agency was rebuilding a runway at the Knapp airport in Berlin when a fence built to hold back the fill let loose. About 70 cubic yards of silt, sand and gravel washed into a nearby brook and wetland. State documents say the brook was damaged and part of the wetland was buried under two and a half feet of fill.

(Spinosa) “We do intend to proceed with an enforcement action on this.”

(Dillon) Sal Spinosa directs the enforcement office at the Natural Resources Agency.

(Spinosa) “This matter has been investigated. One of our investigators was responsible for looking into this.”

(Dillon) Spinosa says the environmental damage was significant. His office has told the Transportation Agency that it violated both wetlands rules and its Act 250 permit, which said it had to protect the waterways near the airport.

This isn’t the first time the Transportation Agency has faced questions about its environmental record. Last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said erosion from the Bennington Bypass construction damaged a nearby stream. Transportation Secretary Brian Searles says he’s ordered an internal investigation into the latest incident:

(Searles) “I want to make a clear point that we are not at all contesting these violations, these alleged violations. We believe they happened, we know they happened. And really where we are in the process is not trying to deny them or even make excuses but rather to put fixes in place so it doesn’t happen again.”

(Dillon) Ben Davis of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group says the Transportation Agency needs to follow the law since its projects affect wetlands throughout the state. He says the Agency’s performance has improved.

(Davis) “They’ve got an environmental division. I think they’ve got some good people there. So I’m satisfied that they’re moving in that direction. I think it’s unfortunate that it’s going to take enforcement actions like this one that’s anticipated to really drive the issue for them.”

(Dillon) The enforcement case against the Agency is expected to be wrapped up soon.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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