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Vermont Organizations and Individual Recognized by EPA with Regional Environmental Award

09/15/2020
Contact Information: 
John Senn (senn.john@epa.gov)
(617) 918-1019

BOSTON – The US Environmental Protection Agency today recognized two Vermont organizations and one individual for their work to protect New England's environment. They were among 24 recipients across New England honored by EPA's New England office at the 2020 Environmental Merit Awards virtual ceremony.

EPA New England's annual Environmental Merit Awards are given to community leaders, scientists, government officials, business leaders, schools, and students who represent different approaches, but a common commitment to environmental protection. Among those recognized in Vermont, Colleen Hickey of Grand Isle, Vt., with the Lake Champlain Basin Program given a lifetime achievement award for a career or life devoted to protecting the New England environment. The Vermont Aquifer Characterization Team, based in Bennington, and the Seymour Lake Association, based in Morgan, were also recognized.

"Initiatives led by individuals and groups like this years' awardees have driven progress toward clean water and clean air, built community support for revitalization investments, sparked environmental innovation, reduced waste, and protected the public from exposure to harmful substances," said EPA New England Administrator Dennis Deziel. " EPA is always proud to recognize the honorees' dedication, commitment to partnerships, and passion for success that has led to measurable change." Deziel noted that this year's award celebration – an online video presentation - by necessity differed from past years, but reaffirmed the awards ceremony is more important than ever.

"The award winners' hard work has had a tremendous impact on Vermont's environment and communities," said Peter Walke, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner. "It's humbling to be able to honor their commitment to Vermont's environment. Colleen Hickey's lifetime achievement award is well deserved. She has spent her career helping us all understand the importance of Lake Champlain water quality. The award going to the Aquifer Characterization Team symbolizes the significance of their work to determine the extent of PFAS contamination and protect area residents. Finally, Seymour Lake Association's award recognizes their leadership to install shoreland protection measures. These measures improved water quality and eliminated invasive species in the lake."

The 2020 Merit Award Winners from Vermont were:

Lifetime

Colleen Hickey
Burlington
During Hickey's 27 years with the Lake Champlain Basin Program, she has worked to educate the next generation and help people understand Lake Champlain

management issues. Her work focused on grounding public messaging and all the program's work in science. Hickey started her career with EPA in the infancy of the Lake Champlain Basin Program and pioneered new initiatives to help people understand the importance of protecting and restoring Lake Champlain. Early on, she worked with local media to develop "Champlain Connection," a news segment still running today.

Hickey was key in developing the Champlain Basin Education Initiative and its Watershed for Every Classroom program, which trains teachers in watershed education. She was also a driver of a social marketing campaign to reduce fertilizer use on residential property. More recently, Hickey developed programs to help kids in summer camps learn about the biology of Lake Champlain. The education and outreach team of the Lake Champlain program, which Hickey manages, connects with over 35,000 people each year.

Government

The Vermont Aquifer Characterization Team in Vermont
Bennington, Vermont

Jonathan Kim, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation; Peter Ryan, Middlebury College; Tim Schroeder, Bennington College; Edwin Romanowicz, SUNY Plattsburgh; David Boutt, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Jamie Shanley, U.S. Geological Survey; David DeSimone, DeSimone Geoscience; and EPA New England's Marcel Belaval.

A plume contaminated with PFOA in rock aquifers in the Bennington area affected several hundred drinking water wells, surface water and sediment. The likely source of the PFOA was two former facilities that primarily produced teflon-coated fiberglass fabrics. This team of geologists, geochemists and hydrogeologists from state and federal government, universities, and private business, provided crucial interpretations and data to help the community understand and address risks, develop sites for monitoring wells, and determine the scope of expansion of critical infrastructure to homes and businesses. The project improved the scientific foundation for policy and decision-making related to PFAS. The physical model allowed the team to determine the potential avenues for groundwater and PFAS transport in the bedrock and aquifers. Findings about groundwater ages are proving critical in understanding contamination patterns and safeguarding clean drinking water for the community and families.

Environmental, Community, Academia and Non Profit

Seymour Lake Association
Morgan, Vermont
Beginning in 2002, this lake with low nutrient concentrations, high clarity, and limited aquatic plant growth, began suffering from rising phosphorus concentrations that brought increased aquatic plant and algae growth. The higher phosphorus levels were largely caused by runoff from the densely developed shoreland and lack of shoreline vegetation. The lack of shoreland vegetation protection standards in Vermont until 2014 resulted in little vegetation other than lawn on lakeshore properties. The state Department of Environmental Conservation encouraged the lake association to adopt shoreland protection measures to reduce runoff. Immediately, the Seymour Lake Association members encouraged residents to create buffers, plant vegetation, and improve drainage. The association also put in demonstration shoreland best management practices and held a tour to showcase practices. Ultimately, lakeshore protection best management practices were put in place at over 35 sites. As a result, total phosphorus loading declined and the lake now is free of invasive species. This lake is cited as an example of how lakeshore residents can reverse deteriorating water quality trends.

EPA New England each year recognizes individuals and groups in the six New England states who are distinguished by their work to protect or improve the region's environment. The merit awards, given since 1970, honor individuals and groups who have shown ingenuity and commitment. The Environmental Merit Awards, given for work or actions done in the prior year, are awarded in the categories of individual; business (including professional organizations); local, state or federal government; and environmental, community, academia or nonprofit organization. Also, each year EPA presents lifetime achievement awards for individuals.

Also at the Merit ceremony, Ronald Poltak of New Hampshire, was given the Ira Leighton "In Service to States" annual award for environmental achievement that has had an outsized impact in the state, the region, and nationally. The award recognized Poltak for his work at the helm of the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission for 37 years until his retirement in 2017.

More information on EPA's Environmental Merit Awards, including photographs from the award ceremony: https://www.epa.gov/environmental-merit-awards-new-england