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VNRC Rejects Policy That Paves Farms to Solve Stormwater

Update: January 2007

Wal-Mart needs a state permit to discharge stormwater into a nearby tributary of Stevens Brook, a stream which already does not meet Vermont water quality standards. Last summer, the Agency of Natural Resources granted the stormwater permit to the developers of the proposed 160,000-square-foot store. But, among other problems with the proposal, VNRC has appealed the stormwater permit raising concerns about Wal-Mart’s plans to discharge several tons of sediment and nutrients into a tributary that has no capacity to absorb it.

Wal-Mart proposes to pave or build on nearly 50 acres of cornfield, turning a vast area of productive farmland into “impervious” surfaces. This transformation will send stormwater — and the oil, gas, and other pollutants it carries from the paved land — into the stream. VNRC and many others believe that this will only exacerbate water quality problems. Yet, in a surprising response, ANR, by issuing the permit, is making the case that Wal-Mart’s stormwater management plan will actually improve the water quality of the brook.

This issue raised by the Wal-Mart development in St. Albans is one piece of a larger, long-standing puzzle about how the state manages its stormwater runoff – a critical environmental issue VNRC has been involved in for many years. VNRC makes its case on this important point in the legal brief filed recently with the Act 250 District Commission. Read legal arguments on the stormwater issue here.

Currently, as evidenced by the St. Albans decision, the state’s stormwater policy makes it easier, in many cases, for developers to pave over farms than to build in already-developed areas. In the 2007 legislative session, VNRC is working with partners in the Vermont Environmental Collaborative to ask the Legislature to reverse the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources stormwater policy, which is bad for water quality and bad for keeping Vermont’s vital small farms in business.

The ANR’s current policy is unsettling because ANR is the state agency charged with safeguarding the state’s environment and natural resources. ANR’s position would lead to the conclusion that paving farms is a solution to reducing pollution from stormwater runoff. VNRC believes that any policy that makes it easier to pave over Vermont’s disappearing farm lands to improve water quality is bad precedent and bad for Vermont.