CLF may sue 15 businesses over stormwater runoff

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(Host) An environmental group says it may sue 15 Chittenden County businesses over water pollution violations. The Conservation Law Foundation says the companies never obtained stormwater permits for the runoff that flows in Lake Champlain.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The K-Mart Plaza in South Burlington is a 12-acre site with a number of large stores. When it rains, the runoff flows downhill through a storm drain and into Potash Brook. From there, it goes into Shelburne Bay and Lake Champlain.

Rob Moore is with the Conservation law Foundation. He says the stormwater runoff carries sediment, bacteria and other pollution into Lake Champlain:

(Moore) “Sampling that CLF conducted in May and June found very high levels of copper and zinc, in excess of the state water quality standards, as well as elevated levels of lead. And in addition to the metals that were being discharged, we also found very, very high levels of bacteria, which are no doubt contributing to the beach closings at Red Rocks Park.”

(Dillon) On Monday, CLF put the 15 businesses in the K-Mart plaza on notice that they may be sued for violating the U.S. Clean Water Act. Moore says the law requires that companies get a permit to discharge water pollution. Moore says the South Burlington businesses never got the required state permits.

Moore was hired as CLF’s “Lakekeeper” and he says his job is to make sure the lake is kept clean and that environmental laws are enforced:

(Moore) “This is something we’re going to be doing a great deal of. One of the reasons we created the Lake Champlain ‘lakekeeper’ position, which I’m holding, is to really do a much more comprehensive job of investigating water pollution sources, tracking down illegal discharges such as these at K-Mart Plaza. And if necessary, filing the legal action to stop the problem.”

(Dillon) The K-Mart Plaza property is owned by the Hannaford Brothers supermarket chain that’s based in Portland, Maine. Spokeswoman Caren Epstein says the company was not aware of the CLF legal action.

(Epstein) “But I can tell you as a responsible corporate citizen, Hannaford is in compliance with all current applicable laws and regulations. Certainly understand that laws are changing, and once the state issues a watershed improvement permit for Potash Brook we look forward to working with the city and the state on plans to comply with the applicable laws and regulations.”

(Dillon) Under the Clean Water Act, citizens and environmental groups are allowed to go to court to enforce the law. With the letter it filed Monday, CLF gave the companies 60 days to stop the water pollution before it files suit in federal court.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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