Environmental group says state hasn’t enforced water quality laws

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(Host) An environmental group says the state has failed to enforce water quality laws designed to prevent sediment from washing into rivers and streams.

But the Agency of Natural Resources says the environmentalists ignore improvements the state has made in recent years.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The state is spending tens of millions of dollars to clean up Lake Champlain. But the Vermont Natural Resources Council says the Agency of Natural Resources has failed to make sure basic control measures are followed to prevent pollution from flowing into the big lake.

Contractors and builders are supposed to use silt fences, hay bales, or other techniques to block dirt and sediment from washing into streams. The sediment carries phosphorus, the nutrient that feeds the toxic algae blooms in the lake.

Kim Greenwood is a V-N-RC staff scientist. She checked up on 29 construction sites this past summer.

(Greenwood) “I found kind of shocking results. … Almost every site that I went to was in violation of its permit. And most of the construction sites that I saw had absolutely none of the required erosion prevention or sediment control measures installed.”

(Dillon) Greenwood said most of the sites had bare ground, so rain would wash sediment directly into nearby streams.

Greenwood knows the issue, because she previously worked for the Agency of Natural Resources program that oversees construction sites.

She used the access to public records law to get a list of projects that were permitted. She selected sites in four counties at random.

(Greenwood) “It kind of strikes me as ironic that we’re spending all this money to identify all these non-point sources to fix them when we have these sources identified through the permit process and something as simple as complying with a permit could take out tons of sediment from going into Lake Champlain.”

(Dillon) Agency of Natural Resources officials say the V-N-R-C report ignores the advances the state made recently in its permit program.

Pete LaFlamme is director of water quality. He says officials made about 200 site visits this past construction season.

(LaFlamme) “Yes, there were sites that were out of compliance.”

(Dillon) LaFlamme said the state issued 14 notices of alleged permit violations, but has not fined anybody. He says the state is focusing on voluntary compliance – not penalties – to get builders used to the new regulations.

(LaFlamme) “You know, we disagree, I guess, in terms of the roles of fines at this point in the education curve. If at some point, folks resist coming into compliance, fines do have a role.”

(Dillon) Agency of Natural Resources Secretary George Crombie says the state has revamped its permit process. The goal, he says, is to concentrate first on sites that pose the biggest risk, and to prevent pollution before it occurs.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon.


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