Critics say climate change should be part of Circ Highway debate

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(Host) Environmentalists have added a new item to their list of concerns about the proposed Circumferential Highway in Chittenden County.

They say the new road project will contribute to climate change. And they argue that the Douglas Administration has failed to address the issue.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) This week, as Governor Jim Douglas offered new strategies to fight global warming, his Transportation Agency accepted public comments on a new highway planned for Chittenden County.

(Levine) First of all, there’s no analysis of global warming impacts.

(Dillon) Sandra Levine is a lawyer with the Conservation law Foundation. The group is part of the Smart Growth Collaborative that has raised questions about the Circ Highway.

Levine says the state needs to look at the new highway’s impact on greenhouse gas pollution.

(Levine) It’s a major highway project and there was no analysis of the climate change impacts. In light of cars being responsible for most of the global warming pollution in Vermont, that’s simply irresponsible.

(Dillon) But Transportation Secretary Neale Lunderville says the criticism is off base. He says the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Circ concludes that drivers would use roughly the same amount of fuel for all the various roadway alternatives. Those include the new highway as well as improvements to existing roads.

(Lunderville) We did study fuel consumption. And fuel consumption directly relates to greenhouse gas emissions. So I think their own analysis of the environmental impact statement is shortsighted. They should look a little deeper.

(Dillon) But the environmental groups argue that the state failed to adequately evaluate other alternatives – such as railroads and public transportation – that would get vehicles off the road.

Levine of the Conservation Law Foundation also says the Circ highway will harm about 40 acres of wetlands. She says the wetlands issue is a red flag for federal officials reviewing the project.

(Levine) And the law requires that the alternative that has the least environmental damage that is still practical is the one that should be chosen to go forward. Their analysis first shows that all of the alternatives are practical — they all manage to meet the transportation needs in Chittenden County. Based on that they should not be building a project that would damage up to 40 acres of wetlands.

(Dillon) Lunderville says the state had to make trade-offs. He says the groups that are complaining now are the same ones that tried to block the project in court.

(Lunderville) It’s no surprise to me that they’re going to have a lot of questions, a lot of critiques of this project. They have not wanted to see this project proceed. I’m sure wetlands is one of many issues that they will say X or Y or that we should have done differently….

(Dillon) The state has to respond to all the comments on the environmental impact statement. Lunderville says a final decision is expected in late spring or early summer.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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