State Government

State of Vermont imposes costly 3-acre runoff rule

Meanwhile, Burlington and other cities get away with sewer overflows, critics say

By Guy Page

September 4, 2020 – Vermont landowners of three or more acres of impervious surfaces must plan and pay for phosphorus runoff reduction, the State of Vermont announced Sept. 1.

A complete list of all affected landowners statewide has been published by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. It includes not only businesses but schools, not-for-profits, and municipalities.

“The permit requires landowners with more than three acres of ‘impervious surfaces’ such as roofs, driveways and parking areas, to develop and implement projects to treat runoff to remove phosphorus, sediment, and other pollutants,” an Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) Sept. 1 press release says. 

While virtually all Vermonters agree that phosphorus runoff causes heavy pollution in Lake Champlain and other state waters, the potentially ruinous costs required by the 3-acre runoff rule will force businesses to close, raise taxes and consumer costs, and stifle economic development, critics like Pittsford farmer and businessman and GOP House candidate Dave Soulia say. In a news article appearing on Soulia’s website FYI.VT, DEC Stormwater Manager Padraic Monks said Rutland County compliance alone would cost about $300 million.

The US EPA has insisted for years that Vermont clean up Lake Champlain. A 2017 state law aimed at satisfying the EPA prevented federal action, but Uncle Sam’s patience has worn thin. Failing to impose the 3-acre rule would put Vermont out of EPA compliance, so Vermont in effect had no choice, Vermont officials say. The planning process allows several years and ANR has pledged some planning and financial support. 

Still, ANR’s concession to the EPA leaves landowners holding the big, stinky, expensive bag, Terry Williams, a GOP candidate for Rutland Senate told supporters in an email this morning:

Terry Williams

“We all want clean water and a clean environment, but if you think that this isn’t going to affect you, think again. Look at the municipalities and schools that are listed here. It’s going to cost the property owner big time. And, there aren’t enough engineer firms to do all of these site plans in Vermont to get the required plans done by the end date. In the meantime, the City of Burlington and others, continues to dump millions of gallons of raw sewage into Lake Champlain when there is significant rain event. 

“Maybe it’s time to get our senators Leahy and Sanders and Congressman Welch to do their jobs and put in a bill to have new sewage plants built that can alleviate the problem?  After all, the ones that we have are 55 years old.”

On the subject of municipal sewer failures, pro-business conservatives like Williams find common cause with many Vermont environmentalists. 

August 23, 2020 information on sewer/runoff pollution in Vermont (James Ehlers Facebook page)

According to State of Vermont statistics provided by clean water activist James Ehlers, municipal sewer overflows are a major contributor to a reported 170 spills dumping more than 11 million gallons of sewage and polluted water into Vermont waters this year. When asked at a recent press conference about municipal septic systems dumping pollutants into Lake Champlain, Gov. Phil Scott conceded the seriousness of the problem but said extreme weather from climate change is partly responsible, and that sewer upgrades are difficult to permit and very costly. 

Persistent municipal wastewater overflows are driving clean water advocates’ opposition to Act 250 reform. H926, the revision of Vermont’s landmark 1970 planning and development law, limits rural development but ‘streamlines’ development in selected downtown areas, including water and sewer hookups for new projects. Opponents say that in the guise of protecting the Vermont environment, H926 would actually aid and abet degradation of Vermont waters. 

We are now, for the year, at 175 diversions of human waste mixed with gutter contaminants into our drinking water supplies and recreational waters … with more rain on the way,” Ehlers wrote on a recent Facebook post. “The Senate is poised–right now–to make this problem even worse by loosening oversight on polluters when they vote on H. 926.”

PHOTO – cyanobacteria pollution on Lake Champlain, James Ehlers Facebook page. Muncipal septic overflows partly responsible for cyanobacteria will be made worse if the current version of H926, Act 250 reform, is approved, critics say. Meanwhile the State of Vermont has announced all landowners with three or more acres of impervious surfaces (roofs, driveways, parking lots) must pay for expensive upgrades to prevent phosphorus runoff.

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