Environmental groups can challenge Circ Highway

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(Host) The Water Resources Board has allowed two environmental groups to challenge a major new highway project in Chittenden County. The Conservation Law Foundation and the Friends of the Earth Environmental group oppose the 16 mile long Circumferential Highway near Burlington.

But the Agency of Transportation and the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation challenged the environmentalists’ right to appeal water pollution permits needed for the project. They told the Water Resources Board in January that the groups failed the legal test of standing required before they can bring an appeal.

On Friday, the Water Resources Board ruled the groups do have standing in the case. Mark Sinclair is with the Conservation Law Foundation.

(Sinclair) “The board made it very clear that because waters like Lake Champlain are public waters that belong to all of us, that environmental groups that have members in Vermont have the right to challenge permits by state regulators that increase pollution to these public waters.”

(Host) The board decision came as the Vermont House considers a permit reform bill that would eliminate the Water Resources Board and could curtail public involvement in permit reviews. Sinclair says lawmakers should pay attention to the board’s ruling.

(Sinclair) “I hope this decision will provide some backstop and control on the legislative debate so the Legislature recognizes the role of citizen involvement in keeping Vermont green. I hope this decision will have a sobering effect on the Legislature and that they will not make drastic changes in who gets to participate in environmental decision making here in Vermont.”

(Host) The Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation is considering an appeal of the board’s ruling. The Agency of Transportation had hoped to begin work this spring on the next phase of the Circ Highway.

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