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Soundkeeper Sails to Big Win in Court Case

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. - Connecticut Soundkeeper Terry Backer was thrilled that the New York Supreme Court found that the state Department of Environmental Conservation's was too lenient in its management of stormwater runoff into Long Island Sound.

"This is a big win," Backer said. "Stormwater runoff is one of the critical and serious problems facing both the Sound and other area waterways."

The court ruled that the department was too lax in its certification and must "issue revisions" consistent with the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, also known as the Clean Water Act.

According to the court documents, the act stipulates the Department of Environmental Conservation must issue permits for all point source discharges of water pollution. Ultimately the court ruled that the department misinterpreted the use of the act's "general permit," which allows for permits to be issued to geographic areas without individual inspection.

The case was brought in 2010, when a coalition of activist groups headlined by the Natural Resources Defense Council took exception to the department's lack of diligence.

"We were glad to be part of a coalition with the NRDC and all the other activist organizations," Backer said. "Everyone really stepped up to what we were dealing with."

In its findings, the court ruled the department must stop the use of a general permit and rewrite the existing laws, forcing the organization to be more hands on and transparent in certifying allowable stormwater runoff.

Senior NRDC Attorney Larry Levine said his organization is hopeful the department will follow through and institute changes without delay.

"We are hopeful that the agency will promptly implement the court’s ruling, rather than delay by filing an appeal," Levine said. "The legal debate has gone on long enough. The time for real progress to protect our waters is now."

Even if the department does not appeal, Backer acknowledged there is still a long way to go when it comes to stormwater runoff.

"We've been at this a long time, and we'll continue to stay involved in the administrative proceeding processes," Backer said. "We need to improve general stormwater permitation because it truly is a nasty and pervasive pollutant."

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