Water board hears arguments on participation rules

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(Host) The fight over a new highway planned for Chittenden County has moved to the state Water Resources Board. Two environmental groups oppose the 16-mile Circumferential Highway and they’ve appealed state storm water permits for the project. The first legal skirmish was over whether the groups have the legal right to appeal.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Conservation Law Foundation and Friends of the Earth say the dirty runoff from the new highway will pollute nearby streams and Lake Champlain. They say the pollution shouldn’t be allowed because that part of the lake already fails state water quality standards.

But before those issues get heard, CLF and Friends of the Earth first have to clear a legal hurdle. Lawyers for the state and a Burlington business group want the two groups kicked out of the case. They argue that CLF and Friends of the Earth don’t have the legal right to appeal. Lawyer Dale Rocheleau represents the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation.

(Rocheleau) “Our Vermont tradition of allowing interested persons to participate in the permit process has been abused by the intervention of such out-of-state special interest groups that have no legal standing. They offer the illusion of Vermont purpose and Vermont members. However, when you drill down into the corporate documents, the governing corporate documents, they fail to satisfy the minimum requirements of standing.”

(Dillon) Rocheleau says that the environmental groups have failed to show how their members would be hurt by the potential pollution. But his argument drew some strong questions from Board Chairman David Blythe:

(Blythe) “It seems that both the agency and GBIC are setting the bar so high, that an independent advocacy group – unless it can show a photograph of one of its members standing knee deep in the water resource – it sounds like you would preclude that organization from participating in appeals of this sort.”

(Dillon) Mark Sinclair of the Conservation Law Foundation says his members are directly affected, since they use the lake and the streams that could be polluted. Sinclair says his opponents have misinterpreted the case law on the issue:

(Sinclair) “Under GBIC’s argument, very few environmental organizations would ever be able to bring an appeal before this board. In fact, no regional or national environmental groups would be able to bring appeals of storm water permits before this board, unless in their corporate documents they ticked off every possible river in Vermont they might try to protect in litigation. It’s a ridiculous argument and it’s not based on standing precedent.”

(Dillon) The Water Resources Board is expected to rule on the issue in about three weeks.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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