MassHighway finally starts to clean up its act—and our waterways

Emily Long

On April 14 U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young issued a final judgment in CLF’s favor in our suit against the MassHighway Department, bringing to a close nearly five years of litigation to push the department to manage stormwater runoff from state roads that was polluting nearby waterbodies. The court found that MassDOT (which now includes MassHighway) is finally, sufficiently carrying out its obligations. As a result of CLF’s suit, MassHighway has now built new stormwater treatment measures at the three sites that were contributing to discharges that cause on occasion instream exceedance of water quality standards. In addition, it submitted a revised Storm Water Management Plan that addressed the numerous deficiencies in the original plan which the court approved. The court noted, however, that MassHighway has more work to do. MassHighway has committed to assess its storwmater impacts on over 600 locations over a five-year schedule and to install new treatment if necessary.  MassHighway will have to submit two more reports to the Court detailing its activities throughout 2011.

When CLF filed suit in 2006, MassHighway had not even obtained permit coverage for its stormwater from EPA as required under the Clean Water Act. Two years later, in 2008, Mass Highway had done nothing to comply with the federal court order to clean up three sites in Milford, Franklin and Lancaster, Massachusetts, and had not revised its statewide cleanup plan for degraded waters.  CLF took MassHighway back to court, and at a hearing in May, 2010, Judge Young called MassHighway to the mat for non-compliance with federal law and issued an order to begin the cleanup immediately. (For a more detailed history of the case click here.)

At long last, the Judge issued a final judgment in CLF’s favor. This lawsuit sets a precedent for how stormwater is managed, on MassHighway’s remaining 2,500 miles of roadways in Massachusetts and the 600+ locations throughout the state where stormwater is being dumped into degraded rivers, lakes, and streams. The true measure of our success, however, is cleaner water. One important thing to note is that Judge Young, in the court’s final judgment, explicitly said this does not preclude suits for future violations so you can be sure CLF will be closely monitoring MassHighway for years to come. Until next time…

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