Watchdogging WVDEP and the Public Comment Process

by Autumn Crowe, Staff Scientist

Autumn Leah Crowe

West Virginia Rivers Coalition believes stronger regulations offer our rivers and streams better protection from pollution.

One of those regulations involves general permits, or permits that cover multiple projects that are similar in nature. General permits are re-issued every five years, so if there are enhancements that can be made to the permit requirements, we only have the opportunity to strengthen them once every five years.

Right now, (September 2019) the general Construction Stormwater Permit is up for re-issuance. This permit regulates land development, over one acre, that is not associated with oil and gas activities. This includes everything from new housing developments to large industrial facilities.

Keeping track of general permit re-issuances takes a lot of work!

Last fall, WV Rivers almost missed the initial Construction Stormwater Permit comment period because WVDEP failed to provide adequate public notice of the comment period. But we managed to submit technical comments just under the deadline.  Sadly, the lacking public notice was just the first in a line of miscommunications by the WVDEP regarding the Stormwater Permit.

Next, we weren’t notified that the permit had been finalized in January 2019 and  we didn’t receive a response to our comments, which the WVDEP is required to do. Because we didn’t receive WVDEP’s response, we missed the 30-day appeal period for the permit.

Interestingly, WV Manufacturer’s Association did receive WVDEP’s response and filed an appeal. Other industries soon followed suit. The result of that appeal was a settlement between WVDEP and industry which weakens the Construction Stormwater Permit and leaves our streams more vulnerable to construction runoff.

Now, WV Rivers is reviewing modifications from that settlement. It takes dozens of hours and several days to meticulously comb through the revised permit and compare it to the previous permit to see what protections were lost in the settlement.

One of our biggest concerns is that the permittee is no longer required to comply with the state’s water quality standards. Because the permittee is expected to implement erosion and sediment control best management practices, it is assumed that the water quality standards will be met.

However, we’ve seen countless projects where water quality was degraded because sediment and erosion control measures were inadequate or not maintained. Additionally, the permit now lacks many of the enhanced best management practices that WVDEP originally proposed.

Another change to the permit that raises alarms is the weakening of requirements to notify the public of large projects. Only construction projects over 100 acres will require public notice. This means that projects can be 99.9 acres and the public will not be notified.

Previously, public notification was required for projects that impacted pristine streams or projects where construction lasted over a year. We’re opposed to any actions that suppress the public’s concerns on projects impacting their communities. We are submitting comments objecting to these permit modifications and will keep you apprised of these efforts.

Please consider making a donation to help support our watchdogging of the WVDEP!

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