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Municipalities are now allowed to dispose of snow in Long Island Sound and certain other waterways under certain conditions, the state Department of Environmental Protection announced Friday.
The DEP said it modified its policies because of the extraordinary snowfall this winter. Disposal in salt water will be allowed only after other options are exhausted, the agency said.
"The DEP recognizes that the amount of snow accumulating this winter is creating unique issues for cities and towns," DEP Commissioner Amey Marrella said. "When it comes to disposing of all this snow, we must strike the right balance between environmental protection and public safety."
Municipalities are encouraged, however, to continue dumping as much plowed snow as possible at parks, athletic fields and other upland locations because salt, sand, oils and other contaminants that get mixed up with snow can harm water quality and aquatic life, Marrella said.
Before the revised policy, communities would have had to obtain a permit from the DEP before being able to dump snow into a waterway. Allowing snow to melt gradually in an upland lot, DEP officials said, allows contaminants to settle out, where they will be filtered out or broken down by soil microbes before getting into groundwater, or, if snow is piled on a paved lot, can be trapped in catch basins or collected by street sweepers.
Donald Maranell, warden of Stonington Borough, is among municipal officials grateful for the DEP's new policy. So far this winter, snow cleared from narrow borough streets has been piled in a lot at Stonington Point, but "it's pretty full," he said Friday. Borough crews might start dumping snow into Long Island Sound if another significant snowfall occurs, he said.
"It would be cheaper and probably quicker, too" than trying to pile more snow at Stonington Point, Maranell said. "I applaud the DEP for coming to a common-sense solution."
Not everyone agrees, however.
"Taking the massive buildup of snow we currently have and dumping it in our waterways is the equivalent of dumping municipal garbage into our rivers and Long Island Sound - it should remain illegal in all but the most extreme and controlled circumstances," said Roger Reynolds, senior attorney for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment.
"The snow that is currently on the ground is not just water - it contains garbage, motor oil and feces from animals, among many other toxic and bacterial pollutants. We urge the DEP to ensure that towns and cities dispose of snow in waterways only when there are true public safety threats and only when it has been objectively documented that all other options, such as storing snow in parks or ballfields or melting it with equipment, have been thoroughly and genuinely exhausted."
Reynolds said the DEP "must closely monitor compliance with its relaxed guidelines and strictly enforce any deviations or the result could be a disaster for our waterways."
The DEP said its revised guidelines are consistent with federal guidelines and those of neighboring states such as Massachusetts and New Jersey.
The new policy applies only to snow and ice not visibly contaminated with anything other than salt and sand from road-clearing activities. Marrella said towns should notify the DEP before or right after snow is dumped into a waterway so it can assess the environmental impact.
Ozzie Inglese, director of the DEP's water permitting and enforcement division, emphasized that the new policy should be employed only if necessary.
Coastal communities should dump in marine waters. Communities such as Norwich, whose only significant waterway access is to the brackish waters of the Thames River, can dump into the Thames, "but only if all the other conditions are met."
"Obviously, we're going to have to monitor this and learn from this experience," Inglese said.
The DEP takes the issue of the direct dumping of snow into waterways seriously, he said, because untreated runoff "is one of the most pressing environmental problems, in terms of water quality."
While more must be done to trap contaminants in runoff that flows in warmer months, he said, there are some landscape designs, catch basins and other infrastructure along roadways that filter runoff. Direct dumping of snow into a waterway bypasses all those systems.
The DEP said municipalities must meet these additional conditions for waterway disposal:
?Environmentally sensitive areas must be avoided.
?Only rivers and streams with sufficient water flow that are not prone to ice jams should be used for snow disposal.
?Disposal must occur only in open water and not interfere with navigation, damage bridge, docks or other structures. Care should be taken to prevent the formation of ice dams.
?Disposal in ponds and lakes is discouraged.
?No disposal in coastal or freshwater wetlands, eelgrass beds, vegetated shallows, vernal pools, shellfish beds, mudflats, public water supply reservoirs and their tributaries or other environmentally sensitive areas.
?Precautions must be taken to avoid shoreline or stream bank damage or erosion.
DEP's revised policy can be found at: http://www.ct.gov/dep/snowdisposal