After Burlington's wastewater treatment plant recently overflowed several times into Lake Champlain, Hungerford decided to take matters into his own hands. On Thursday morning, he stood in the rain on Williston Road in South Burlington holding a sign that read: "Burlington, Stop Dumping Shit Into Our Lake."
"It was one thing I could do," said Hungerford, 59. "It's better than putting an angry emoji face on Facebook. [The spills have] been an ongoing problem for many years."
Hungerford lives in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., but grew up in St. Albans and has a family cottage on the lake there. Thursday's one-man protest was Hungerford's third since he decided to take action about a month ago. Wearing a yellow rain slicker, he noted that the weather likely meant the city plant had spewed more wastewater into the lake.
He was right: More than 15,000 gallons overflowed into the Intervale wetlands Wednesday night, according to data the Queen City provided to the state. And nearly 66,000 gallons more flowed into the Pine Street Barge Canal, the city revealed in a press release later Thursday. About 90 percent of the release was stormwater, the city said, "with a small wastewater fraction."
In response, city officials posted signs at Blanchard Beach in Oakledge Park and at the beach near the former Blodgett property warning swimmers of the potential for increased bacteria levels in the lake. The city said it would release water sample results on Friday.
The latest overflow came two weeks after the city dumped 3 million gallons of partially treated wastewater into the lake during a storm. All told, Burlington has dumped more than 11 million gallons in 2018.
"As progressive of a state Vermont is, and as progressive a city as Burlington is, with a world-class university right behind us, there's got to be an alternative to get the sewage under control rather than dump millions of gallons of untreated sewage directly into Lake Champlain," Hungerford lamented.
Cars honked as he stood steadfastly in the drizzle. "Good job, man," a guy on a bicycle offered as he pedaled by.
"This is a good location because there's plenty of traffic here — and it's headed into Burlington," said Hungerford.
The poster's profanity, Hungerford said, served a specific purpose. The four-letter word is something a "fourth grader could look at and immediately understand what it means," rather than euphemisms officials use such as "partially treated wastewater" or "fecal matter," he said.
"I'm sensitive to the word," said Hungerford, "but it works."
It's not just Burlington that's had poop problems. State data show that nearly 300,000 gallons of dirty water flowed into Stevens Brook in St. Albans City on Wednesday morning. That same day, Rutland dumped 679,000 gallons into East Creek — two days after it discharged 9.7 million gallons into nearby waterways.
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger has vowed action in the Queen City. After the city's July 10 multimillion-gallon overflow, he ordered Department of Public Works director Chapin Spencer to "immediately devote every available resource" to finding the cause of a mechanical problem that led to the leak and to fix it. Weinberger also promised to complete "capital upgrade planning" by December 1 so city residents can vote on Town Meeting Day in March 2019 on paying for improvements.
"These unintended, avoidable releases are completely unacceptable to to Burlingtonians, to Vermonters, and to me," Weinberger said in the July 11 statement. "The City’s Department of Public Works has a core responsibility to properly treat our sewage and stormwater and fully protect the lake."
"It affects the biggest population center in this state," he said. "This part of the lake is absolutely gorgeous, and it's directly involved in dumping the sewage."