Judge says state must do more to control stormwater pollution

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(Host) An Environmental Court judge says the state has to do more to control stormwater pollution in five Chittenden County watersheds.

The ruling marks another loss for the state in a long-running legal battle over cleaning up streams that flow into Lake Champlain.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The five streams are small but the pollution problem is big. Rain and melting snow carry sediment, motor oil and other pollutants into Potash, Englesby, Morehouse, Centennial and Bartlett Brooks.

The dirty run-off comes from paved parking lots developments in Chittenden County. And the pollution means the streams fail state water quality standards.

The Agency of Natural Resources has documented the problem. The legal question has been what’s the best way to solve it. Now the court – for the second time – has ordered the state to tell companies to get discharge permits, as required by the federal Clean Water Act.

Anthony Iarrapino is a lawyer with the Conservation Law Foundation, the environmental group that argued the case.

(Iarrapino) “Within 90 days they need to notify those polluters of their obligations to obtain permits and then work with those polluters as they draft permits that will ultimately include requirements aimed at restoring these waters back to the level of water quality and health that all Vermonters expect and deserve.”

(Dillon) The state argued that it has a better way to clean up the water. It’s established a total daily load of pollution for the streams. And officials say they’ll use this pollution budget to develop a watershed-based clean up.

Warren Coleman is general counsel for the Agency of Natural Resources. He said he was disappointed in the court’s ruling.

(Coleman) “This may require people to go ahead and seek permits that ultimately are not in synch with a more efficient and more comprehensive watershed-based solution.”

(Dillon) But Judge Thomas Durkin said the state’s approach has not been fully implemented, and doesn’t cover all stormwater discharges. He said the state still has a legal obligation to require permits to control pollution.

Durkin wrote, quote: "Whatever discretion A-N-R might have in this matter, it does not include the ability to decide to do nothing under the" Clean Water Act.

Iarrapino said after six years of legal challenges, the court’s ruling was clear.

(Iarrapinio) “The court has recognized the positive role that the Clean Water Act can have and has given the Agency of Natural Resources clear instructions on what its duties are and a very reasonable yet expeditious timeframe to make sure that work gets going without any further delay.”

(Dillon) Coleman, the agency’s lawyer, said officials have not decided if they will appeal. He said the state may decide to ask the court for more time to follow the judge’s ruling.

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

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