Douglas asks lawmakers to address stormwater permits

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas wants the Legislature to lift a deadline the state faces to clean up certain streams damaged by stormwater pollution. A recent ruling by the Water Resources Board rejected the state’s approach to fixing the pollution problem in four Chittenden County streams. Douglas has decided not to appeal the ruling. Instead, he’ll ask lawmakers to address the issue.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) The Douglas administration says the recent Water Resources Board ruling sets up an irreconcilable conflict between science and law.

A state law passed three years ago requires watershed improvement plans to clean up streams within five years. These plans are designed to reduce stormwater pollution in streams. The greasy, sediment-filled runoff flows off parking lots and city streets and has damaged several brooks in Chittenden County.

Natural Resources Secretary Elizabeth McLain says the watershed improvement plans would have made solid improvements in water quality. But she says it’s scientifically impossible to guarantee that the plans would meet the five year legal deadline:

(McLain) “The issue around five years is not doing the work in five years. It’s guaranteeing compliance with a standard of sediment in five years, which our science folks say we can’t do that. We cannot go ahead based upon our plans and guarantee compliance with water quality standards in five years. There are too many uncontrollable, too many variables, principally the streams themselves.”

(Dillon) Governor Douglas says the legal challenges have delayed clean up of the streams. He says the Legislature must now tackle the problem.

(Douglas) “I’m strongly committed to insuring that we clean up the impaired waterways in our state. And we’ve got 100 tons of pollution going into these streams. And this action by these organizations has put that on hold. So we need to think of the overall and long term objective, which is to improve the water quality of our state and I’m going to do that in the best way I know how and that is to get the General Assembly to act.”

(Dillon) Now that the Water Resources Board has rejected the stream improvement plans, the state will go back to issuing stormwater permits to individual developers.

Environmental advocates say that’s good news, since an earlier Water Resources Board ruling requires that these permits cause no net new pollution in the damaged streams.

But Chris Kilian of the Conservation Law Foundation strongly disagrees that the five year deadline is impossible to meet.

(Kilian) “The agency has limitless opportunity to clean up these waters by turning to additional sites. We propose that many of those sites that were grandfathered and made lawful simply to facilitate the economic interests of those commercial property owners should be cleaned up. And we believe if that was done, the standards would be met, and development could move forward.”

(Dillon) The governor’s request that the Legislature enter the water pollution debate means that two major environmental issues are now before lawmakers. The Legislature went home this spring without passing a bill to reform the permit process, another top priority for Governor Douglas.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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