House passes stormwater legislation

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(Host) The Vermont House has overwhelmingly approved legislation to clean up streams polluted by stormwater. The bill is also supposed to ease regulatory gridlock that’s halted some real estate deals in northwestern Vermont.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The bill sets up a $1.2 million fund to help pay for the cleanup of polluted waterways. It also prevents new development from adding more pollution to already-damaged streams.

Burlington Republican Kurt Wright told the House that the stormwater bill was needed to help the economy and the environment.

(Wright) “We’re crafting a workable compromise on this very complex and difficult issue. Passage of this bill is absolutely vital to the economic well- being to Burlington and Chittenden County as is the clean up of our impaired waterways in Chittenden County and across the state.”

(Dillon) It’s the second time in two years that the Legislature has tried to address the stormwater issue. Part of the problem is the nature of the pollution itself.

Stormwater doesn’t flow from a single pipe like sewage or industrial pollution. It’s the greasy and muddy run-off that flushes from city streets and parking lots. The water contains chemicals and sediment.

The issue came to a head last year when the Water Resources Board rejected the state’s plan to clean up streams in Chittenden County. The board said the state had failed to show that the streams would be cleaned up in five years as required by law. The water board then launched an investigation into the science and technology of stormwater control. That study will result in new pollution control plans over the next three years.

The legislation that passed the House tries to address the interim period before the new plans go into effect. Patrick Berry is with the Vermont Natural Resources Council.

(Berry) “We’re got anywhere from six months to three years where we can get these plans completed. And what we needed to do was make sure that we didn’t make the situation any worse in terms of pollution and we also allowed for responsible development.”

(Dillon) The bill sets a strict no-pollution standard for new development. It also allows developers who cannot clean up all of their stormwater to pay for cleanup elsewhere in the watershed.

Representative Steve Adams is a Hartford Republican who chairs the fish, wildlife and water resources committee. He told his colleagues that the bill will lead to cleaner water.

(Adams) “Typically when we issue a permit, that permit is issued to allow for some form of pollution to occur. This bill that you have before you is just the opposite of that. The permit will be issued to actually clean up the streams and stop pollution. I’d like you to remember that when you vote.”

(Dillon) The Douglas administration supports the measure and the Senate is expected to consider the stormwater bill early next week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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