The Inadequacies of DEQ’s Quarry Project EA

Montana DEQ’s Draft Environmental Assessment on the Quarry Planned Unit Development contains a multitude of issues:

Project Segmentation into Phases Avoids Traditional Regulatory Scrutiny:

  • The project uses “phases” of development, where each apply for an individual COSA from DEQ, thereby limiting agency review of aggregate project impacts on the environment so as to seem “nonsignificant”. For example, DEQ’s EA only considers Phase I of the Quarry PUD, despite the fact that Gallatin County has approved an entire Quarry PUD with other phases, a fact DEQ knows.

Using Dozens of Septic Systems to Avoid Pollution Control Permitting: 

  • The Quarry Project proposes the use of dozens of Level II septic systems that each discharge less than the regulatory trigger volume of 5,000 gpd (discharges > 5,000 gpd automatically require a discharge permit), and therefore DEQ’s EA found each new discharge “nonsignificant”. The aggregate wastewater discharge from the project as a whole, however, is approximately 60,000 gpd, a volume that would certainly require a pollution discharge permit and thorough evaluation of impacts on nearby ground and surface water. Using individual septic systems for a major PUD less than a ½ mi from the Gallatin River is an end-run around the very purpose of water pollution permitting review: ensuring projects are reviewed holistically and conditioned as necessary to maintain and protect local water quality. 

Ignores Cumulative Impacts in Violation of Court Ruling:

  • DEQ’s EA fails to consider the cumulative impacts of adding dozens of septic systems’ in addition to other sources of nutrient pollution on local water quality, and ignores available science indicating shallow Canyon Area groundwater is hydrologically connected to the nearby Gallatin River. DEQ’s EA fails to recognize or assess these elements, an agency failure that is contrary to a recent Gallatin County District Court ruling which found that DEQ must consider the cumulative impacts of nutrient pollution on the Gallatin River during water pollution permit reviews.

Fails to Assess Surface Water Impacts to Gallatin River:

  • By placing septic system drain fields >¼ mile away from the Gallatin River, the Quarry Project relies on another unscientific rule exemption that deems any Level II septic system discharging further than ¼ mile from a surface water automatically “nonsignificant”. The agency’s ¼ mi setback exemption is unscientific generally, and its use to exempt potentially significant new development from review in Big Sky’s Canyon Area is contrary to the purposes of the Water Quality Act and scientifically unsupportable. Stopping an agency from using best available science to examine the degradation potential of the Quarry Project’s new pollution discharges on the downgradient Gallatin River is not sound decision-making.

Reallocated Closed Basin Water Rights:

  • The project relies on water rights traded from Lazy J South to fulfill its water supply needs, because all water rights in the river basin have already been allocated. The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s authorization of this water rights trade relies on the fact that treated sewage will be discharged back into the Gallatin River system as proof of no net loss of water. Ironically, despite the water supply being predicated on disposing of sewage back into the Gallatin River system – a river already suffering from excessive nutrient pollution – the DEQ has failed to examine the cumulative impacts of adding >60,000 gpd of new wastewater into an already degraded river system.

No Consideration of Alternatives:

  • DEQ’s EA fails to provide any discussion of reasonable and prudent alternative ways of developing the Quarry Project that may pose less degrading impacts on the local environment. As but two examples, there is no discussion of requiring centralized wastewater treatment (ensuring better treatment levels), or requiring end-of-pipe pollution discharges to satisfy well-established numeric nutrient limits that would protect local waterway health.

For further background information and a fact sheet on the Quarry Project, click here.