Administration challenges Water Board ruling

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(Host) The Douglas administration wants the Water Resources Board to overturn its recent ruling on stormwater pollution. Two weeks ago, the board threw out several state permits for watershed improvement plans in Chittenden County. The board said the plans didn’t go far enough to clean up the water. The state has now asked the board to reconsider.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Water Resources Board ruling has delighted environmentalists but it worries state officials and business groups. The board said that four out of six state watershed improvement plans for Chittenden County streams fail to comply with state law. The law says permits for stormwater must lead to cleaner streams in five years. The board said the state’s permits wouldn’t meet that deadline.

But Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg says the streams will just get dirtier if the state isn’t allowed to act. He says the state and Chittenden County businesses planned to spend more than two million dollars this summer to begin the clean up work.

(Wennberg) “The uncertainty created by this is not only hurting the real estate community but it’s substantially damaging the streams. And that damage will continue until a solution is found.”

(Dillon) Wennberg says the board didn’t understand the science behind stormwater pollution. He says the state plans would have allowed officials to examine various cleanup methods.

(Wennberg) “At this point we’re standing behind a wall of litigation while the water continues to be polluted. While that was not necessary, we could have proceeded to cleaning up these waters this summer.”

(Dillon) This is the second time the Water Resources Board has put the state on notice that its stormwater cleanup plans were inadequate. Two summers ago, the state warned that the Lowe’s Home Center planned for South Burlington could not get a permit unless it could show that its stormwater would not damage a stream that was already polluted. Lowe’s eventually got its permit, but the Legislature passed a new law with the five year clean up requirement.

Chris Kilian of the Conservation Law Foundation says the legal issue is simple.

(Kilian) “The board didn’t have any choice in this case. This is a very moderate board that had clear law and clear facts. And I’m really disturbed by the agency’s position, because even if they are right that these waters can’t be cleaned up in five years – or that these waters can’t be cleaned up at all – the agency’s position shouldn’t be that we allow more pollution or allow more discharges. It should be that no more discharges are allowed.”

(Dillon) Kilian says the board should not reverse its decision. But business groups, meanwhile, worry that real estate deals and developments projects are threatened because of the uncertainty created by the board’s ruling.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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