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Perfect Stormwater: Delays hit Rte. 7 Rebuild Through Brandon

Tuesday July 18, 2006

By Ed Barna

     Since 1998, when the effort to upgrade Route 7 between Brandon and Pittsford began, the great fear among local officials has been that the momentum would stall, delays would come, and finally the plan would be shelved--the fate of other such projects since the 1930’s.

So the news that a stormwater issue will delay the Act 250 construction permit application for the section through Brandon village (section six of a 12-mile, six-section master plan that does have an Act 250 permit) has Brandon members of the Route 7 Steering Committee riled.

At a regular Select Board meeting July 10, board member Richard Baker delivered what he said was a preview of remarks he would make to state officials at the Steering Committee meeting July 17. Eight years had gone by without a shovel full of dirt being turned (not strictly true, since the whole 12 miles have been spot tested for archeological remains, but true for construction purposes) and he was growing increasingly concerned about delays, he said.

Every such postponement has three effects, Baker said: it increases the time the public must travel an unsafe road; it increases the chance of even further delays; and it increases the cost, as worldwide competition for materials drives up prices.

Assuming those price increases are about 1 percent monthly, the project cost increases would amount to about $700-800 a month, Baker said.

There have been two phases to the stormwater-related delay, which derailed an Act 250 application expected this spring. In the first, the lawyers for the Agency of Transportation (AOT) and Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) disagreed over the interpretation of federal rules related to “site balancing.”

Christopher Bean of CLD Engineering, hired as consultants by Brandon for their share of the Route 7 project, explained this at one Steering Committee meeting by taking the example of a dip in a road, which has four pathways water can run down (two on each side, toward the bottom of the dip). Under site averaging, it isn’t necessary to build control systems on all four pathways if in total they meet the stormwater standards, he said.

If site averaging were not allowed in downtown Brandon, the control systems would have to be changed. At the least, this would bring delays because there would be additional property owners to negotiate with over right-of-way  acquisition, and possibly the only solution would be something obtrusive enough to create adverse aesthetic effects.

After weeks of statements that a solution was imminent, the agencies delivered a verdict favorable to Brandon: yes, site averaging could be used, all through the Route 7 project (sections 3 and 5 of which, south of Brandon and north of Pittsford village, already have Act 250 construction permits). But Brandon would have to submit an individual permit application, not one based on the master plan.

Meanwhile, a second problem had arisen: the control system designed by CLD for one of the Brandon business district “outfalls” of stormwater was deemed inadequate.

Bean said he was surprised, because he had met with ANR before CLD designed the system for the corner of Carver Street and Rossiter Street, where one underground pipe from downtown turns as it heads for a remote outflow area further downstream. They had looked favorably on a swirl system, as the type of treatment is generally known, so he was surprised when the design was rejected.

Compliance with environmental regulations has been supervised for the Route 7 work by Technical Services, LLC of Waterbury. Mary O’Leary, a hydrogeologist and a principal in the company who has been working with the Steering Committee, wrote to Tom Schmelzenbach on June 22 explaining the swirl system situation (the latter, Brandon’s public works director, is the local manager for Section Six).

Dan Mason, the Water Quality Division official working on the Brandon case, “conferred with colleagues and determined that, although we could achieve the additional treatment (500 percent) he suggested, ANR was not willing to approve this technology when “new” impervious area is involved. The structure is an approved system for redevelopment of existing impervious area.”

To back up and take the long view here, anyone who looks at a parking lot when it isn’t raining realizes there’s a lot of gunk on the pavement, some of which goes downstream when it does rain. Ultimately, all area watercourses are part of the Lake Champlain Basin, and that lake has major problems with excess phosphorus--for which municipal areas, not just farms, have been responsible.

Section 2 of the State’s Acceptable Stormwater Treatment Practices says they must meet three standards: they have to treat all the water; remove “approximately 80 percent total suspended solids and 40 percent total phosphorus”; and show acceptable performance and longevity.
Contacted for comment, Mason said the swirl system proposed for the Brandon outfall in question did not meet the phosphorus part of the standards. The State standards list 19 possible solutions, and “none of them are swirl” systems,  he said.

O’Leary wrote, “Between the redesign needed because of not being able to use a swirl device, an Individual Permit, and the new forms and restrictions ANR has instituted, we will need to redesign how stormwater is collected and treated in Segment 6 (also Segments 1 and 4)....I can specify impacts to existing permits, and Act 250 scheduling, once I hear more from CLD about the proposed alternatives.”

As a highway sign in another state put it, “This detour is for your future safety and convenience.” Meanwhile, if you heard a loud sound from the south between 4 and 6 p.m. on Monday, that was probably Baker erupting at the Steering Committee meeting. 


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