Official: Lake cleanup may cut other costs
By BETH GARBITELLI
The Associated Press | March 21,2014
MONTPELIER — Plans to clean up Lake Champlain and other state waterways are expected to cost more than $150 million over a decade, but new regulations might actually save money, a transportation official said Thursday.
The state Agency of Transportation is considering a streamlined approach for new stormwater runoff regulations for highways that would involve a statewide permit instead of the current patchwork of permits.
The existing regulations have caused “inefficiencies, uncertainty, project delays and costly project design,” according to the agency. A unified approach is intended to reduce administrative costs, said the agency’s environmental program manager, Craig DiGiammarino.
“There’s a better way forward,” DiGiammarino. told the Senate Transportation Committee.
Other transportation departments across the nation endorse combining permit processes as a way to improve water quality and create long-term savings, DiGiammarino said.
Still, there’s a price tag for constructing required ponds, catch basins, underground pipes and grass swales. But DiGiammarino said predictions for dollar amounts in costs and savings won’t be available until after the plans are submitted.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is requiring a reduction of more than a third in the amount of pollution a body of water can receive and still meet quality standards.
For Lake Champlain, this means cutting down on runoff of sediment, phosphorus and other materials that officials say pollute and cause algae blooms, which in turn hurt tourism, depress property values and increase water treatment costs.
Farms, roads, parking lots, commercial properties, homes and forests all contribute to runoff, according to state and federal officials.
The Agency of Natural Resources is also looking to regulate municipal roads. It would help towns avoid costly federal regulations that might be implemented if the state goals fail, according to Sen. Jane Kitchel, a Democrat from Danville who is the Transportation Committee clerk.
That has drawn concern from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.
“I don’t think they have anything like the staff capacity to administer a permit on all municipal roads,” said Karen Horn, director of public policy and advocacy for the organization.
Vermont’s plan to reduce runoff into Lake Champlain is expected to be submitted to the EPA by April 1 and a commitment letter from Gov. Peter Shumlin is expected by the end of April.
Proposed state plans also include enhancing water quality rules for agriculture, requiring additional stormwater treatment for developed areas and improving rules for managing rivers and floodplains. The cleanup of all state waterways will cost about $155 million over a decade, according to a 2013 report.
New York officials are also interested in Vermont’s cleanup efforts because they will influence the EPA’s template for their side of the lake, officials have said.