MIDDLEBURY — In late September of last year, Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger received notification from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the town may have violated the Clean Water Act by dredging and armoring the East Middlebury stretch of the Middlebury River.
After Army Corps Senior Program Manager Marty Abair inspected the area, she confirmed that the town did indeed violate the federal act. At a Tuesday meeting with local officials (see related story), she told the Independent how the town overstepped its authorization.
“What they did was basically ream the river out so there’s no habitat in that reach, and they placed dredge materials without a permit,” she said. Abair explained that the town’s interim armoring job, using boulders from the stream, would have to be overhauled because the rocks are round and won’t hold like angular ones.
Abair told officials the town would be responsible for restoring the dredged stretch of stream and should not work further on that segment until after spring. That way, the river’s natural recovery could be considered when evaluating restoration work, which might actually save the town money.
But from the beginning, Finger and other Middlebury officials have been adamant that they didn’t know they were violating any laws. State towns, like Middlebury, included in a federal disaster declaration were issued a general permit by the Army Corps to do river work and all state authorization for river projects after Tropical Storm Irene was given orally — not via the usual written permit process.
The town has repeatedly issued statements about feeling isolated from regulators, and some of those sentiments began to spout on Tuesday.
“What should apply here should apply elsewhere in the state,” Finger told Abair. She responded by telling Finger that the Army Corps is looking into other incidents.
Questioning Abair’s methods for measuring restoration work, Middlebury Director of Operations Dan Werner, along with Finger, asked how the standard for restoration work would be measured.
Abair said she’d look to river science consultant Amy Sheldon and an upcoming river study for those reference points.
“I can’t imagine everything being restored to pre-Irene standards,” said Finger.
“We’re not going to,” replied Abair. “But this river, Bill, was reamed … and left basically devoid of any habitat and the goal here is to try to restore habitat.”