The Vermont Environmental Court has ordered the state to step up enforcement of the water quality law. The 37-page ruling is the latest in a battle over stormwater runoff that has bounced back and forth between state agencies, environmental advocates and the courts for 5 years.
In June 2003, the Conservation Law Foundation petitioned the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources to require property owners in five Chittenden County watersheds to get federal stormwater permits for all discharges that contribute to known pollution limit violations. The streams include Potash Brook, where the watershed includes the worst single source of stormwater runoff; the shopping plaza that contains Kmart.
"Kmart Plaza is a classic example of a large polluting site that has poor controls or no controls, and is under no legal obligations right now. And this decision says your moment of accountability has arrived," CLF lawyer Anthony Iarrapino said.
CLF says the ruling means that property owners with expired permits must get them renewed, and there are many of those involving older developments that never had modern stormwater systems. New developments like Lowe's are different. After extensive legal battles, Lowe's won permission to build based on its contention that its stormwater system would actually help clean up Potash Brook.
Officials are still evaluating the decision and were not prepared to comment on camera. CLF says the court has put the stormwater issue back where it was when the now-defunct Vermont Water Resources Board required the new permits. The court leaves it up to the State to come up with specific cleanup measures.
Iarrapino is critical of the state's efforts so far.
"And I hope they will work quickly to define those responsibilities," he said. "It's been many, many years that taxpayer dollars have been spent fighting this ultimate decision, instead of working on cleanup. So the State now has the obligation once they notify these polluters of their requirement to get permits and define what the requirements under those permits are."
It's the owners of older properties who may find the environmental court's decision requiring them to clean up the most burdensome. Although, Lowe's shows that development can happen-- as long as it helps, rather than hurts, the stormwater problem.
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