VNRC Uncovers Illegal Discharge at Jay Peak

VNRC Uncovers Illegal Discharge at Jay Peak

The state’s construction permitting system is in place to protect Vermont’s communities — and fragile places — from undue harm. VNRC works to ensure that the state’s leading regulatory agencies enforce the laws designed to do that. When Vermont’s agencies fail to do so, we take action. A recent event at a ski resort in the Northeast Kingdom shows how.

A Muddied Story

In late September 2005, VNRC received a phone call from a concerned citizen who observed discharges from construction sites at Jay Peak Ski Resort (Jay Peak). Construction at the resort appeared to be depositing excessive sediment and muddy water to tributaries of the Jay Branch. VNRC staff visited the site and documented serious water quality problems being caused by the resort’s uncontrolled runoff. VNRC took water quality samples that revealed excessive amounts of sediment and phosphorous in the waters receiving the Jay Peak discharges. The results were alarming. Nearly 17 times the amount of phosphorous was being discharged than is allowed to be discharged from a sewage treatment plant in Vermont. The highest reading for sediment in the water (turbidity) was 160 times Vermont’s standard!
The short story is that in its construction of new condominiums and a golf course, Jay Peak is seriously degrading the fresh waters of the Mississquoi River watershed and its terminus, the Mississquoi Bay of Lake Champlain. To help remedy the problem, VNRC took immediate action to share this important story with the public and spur the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) to take action to address it. As a result of our efforts, the harmful discharges at Jay Peak have been highlighted over the last week in statewide media outlets. The ANR’s handling of this obvious permit violation — and problem — is now in the public’s eye. And Jay Peak is being forced to answer questions about how it allowed the muddying of the state’s fresh waters to occur and what it plans to do about it.

Patterns of Neglect

The longer story, however, is that Jay Peak is just one example among many which demonstrate the failure of the state to enforce the erosion and sediment control requirements which will protect Vermont’s people and places. In total, many similar stories tell a sad tale: Neglecting to implement vital pollution control measures threatens Vermont’s pristine rivers, lakes, and streams. VNRC, among thousands of others, is very concerned.

VNRC works across its water, forest, and sustainable communities programs to identify problems, advance reasonable, sustainable solutions, and promote a better way of doing business in Vermont. Why? Because failure to take steps which will reduce damaging consequences has high costs for Vermont and Vermonters. In the Jay Peak example, the waters receiving the polluted discharges feed the Mississquoi Bay of Lake Champlain. With extremely high levels of phosphorous already, the addition of Jay Peak’s contaminated runoff will have an even greater negative impact on Lake Champlain.

What’s the Solution?

Governor Douglas has made cleaning up the phosphorous pollution in Lake Champlain a high priority. Unfortunately, while Governor Douglas’ Clean and Clear Initiative focuses on funding clean up plans, it is a huge opportunity to reduce pollution by simply enforcing the law. Cleaning up Lake Champlain will be impossible if the state fails to adequately manage illegal discharges, such as the egregious ones that have occurred at Jay Peak.

The scope of the Jay Peak project and its location in a sensitive high elevation headwaters area leads many to believe that the ANR would carefully monitor the compliance of the resort. Yet, this recent example demonstrates clearly that is not the case. Vermonters can and must expect more of their public agencies, which are charged with safeguarding the valuable public resources of the state.

Why doesn’t the ANR take a stronger stand against violators of construction stormwater permits? Why doesn’t the ANR send a message, loud and clear, that there will be financial and public relation consequences to polluters who they violate their permits? Unfortunately, there is no evidence of such a robust and effective enforcement effort on the part of ANR at this time. And until that happens and until we answer these questions, VNRC asks our members, activists, and concerned citizens to join us in continuing to shine the light on these violations and put public and legal pressure on polluters throughout the state to do the right thing. The health of our people, land and resources are worth it.