EPA Against Redesigned Circ Highway

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(Host) The federal Environmental Protection Agency has come out against a new plan for the Chittenden County Circumferential Highway. The EPA says the redesigned roadway would cause unacceptable damage to wetlands and streams.

As VPR’s John Dillon reports, the EPA’s objections spell more trouble for the long-planned project.

(Dillon) The 16-mile Circumferential Highway is designed to loop through Burlington suburbs and alleviate traffic at several choke points.

The roadway has been planned for decades, and the state scaled it back recently from a freeway design to a "boulevard" option with slower speeds. The new design was supposed to lessen environmental impacts.

But the EPA in a strongly worded letter says the project would still cause unacceptable damage to wetlands and streams in the area.

(Levine) "Very strong comments from the EPA recognizing that this project is not prudent, that it will cause a range of environmental problems for the region."

(Dillon) Sandra Levine is an attorney with the Vermont office of the Conservation Law Foundation.

She says the EPA has the authority to stop the project, and that the agency’s comments are a strong signal that the road as designed in unacceptable.

(Levine) "EPA has said this project is too environmentally harmful to receive a permit and that it will severely and irreversibly degrade the aquatic resources in this corridor."

(Dillon) The EPA wants the state to revisit plans to rebuild Vermont Route 2A instead of building the new boulevard.  

The EPA’s objection sets up a clash between two federal agencies that oversee environmental permits for the highway. While the EPA questions the new route, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the redesigned Circ a preliminary green light this summer.

Vermont Transportation Secretary David Dill says he’s frustrated by the EPA’s position.

(Dill) "Really the impact at this point is that it continues the limbo of not knowing what the Corps is going to do. I mean we assume the Corps will continue to pursue the permit, but we’re now in a new deliberative session where folks got to consider these comments and all the technical documents that EPA submitted and see if they come to a different conclusion."

(Dillon) Dill says he expects the decision to be kicked to higher levels in the EPA and the Army Corps. He points out that the project was put on a fast track years ago, without much result.

(Dill) "Recall that this project was on President Bush’s list of streamlined projects and that really didn’t help very much. We’ve gone through this extensive debate with the resource agencies." 

(Dillon) Dill says the state hasn’t allocated money for the construction of the Circ, although it has budgeted about a million dollars for design and permitting work.

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

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