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Extra year wanted for starting stormwater programs

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http://m.timesdispatch.com/content/tncms/live/

Extra year wanted for starting stormwater programs

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REX SPRINGSTON/TIMES-DISPATCH

Stormwater flows from a pipe during a downpour at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Lewis Ginter is working to capture stormwater in ponds and gardens to filter it.

BY REX SPRINGSTON Richmond Times-Dispatch | Updated 6 hours ago

Starting this year, Virginia is requiring local governments to run programs to reduce pollution caused by rain, and the local stormwater-management programs would be more stringent than a similar program now run by the state Department of Environmental Quality.

Worried about the costs and about whether they can have the programs running by mid-2014, many localities want the General Assembly to move the July 1 start date back a year.

“It’s just pushing the timetable too tight for localities to have an effective program in place (by July 1) that we know is right,” said Larry J. Wills, the chairman of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors.

Shifting the program from a state effort to a mostly local effort has been under discussion for years. For that reason, environmentalists want the July 1 deadline to hold.

“Our feeling is this is the time to act,” said Margaret “Peggy” Sanner, the senior attorney for the Virginia office of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, an environmental group. “We do not need to delay any more.”

Limiting stormwater runoff is important because rains flush dirt, oil, pet waste and other pollutants from roads, lawns and parking lots and into streams.

Because construction continues every day — meaning more lawns and more pavement — stormwater runoff is the fastest-growing source of pollution to the bay and its rivers, officials say.

There is a handful of interlocking — some say confusing — programs aimed at limiting stormwater pollution.

For example, localities for years have run programs to control sediment and erosion, aiming to keep dirt from running into streams. Because of those programs, you see silt-catching fences at construction sites.

The program at issue here is aimed at getting builders to install measures, such as retention ponds or boggy gardens, that reduce polluted runoff long after the projects are built.

On the same July 1 date that localities are supposed to start their programs to limit runoff, new state stormwater regulations kick in. Under the new rules, projects must be built in ways that reduce phosphorus runoff by 9 percent from currently allowed levels.

Phosphorus, a major pollutant of waterways including the James River, comes from some fertilizers, pet waste and other sources. Measures such as retention ponds that reduce phosphorus runoff also should help keep other pollutants, including nitrogen and dirt, from washing into streams, officials say.

Localities that create stormwater programs will probably have to hire workers to review development plans and inspect sites, among other chores.

“Local governments really are being assigned extensive and expensive responsibilities,” said Larry Land, a lobbyist for the Virginia Association of Counties.

The association represents Virginia’s 95 counties. By unanimous vote of its membership in November, the group supported a one-year delay, to July 2015, in the startup date for localities to run the stormwater programs.

It is unclear how much it will cost local governments to run the programs.

“They will be facing increased costs,” Land said. “We just don’t know how much.”

Many localities — mainly those in the bay region east of Interstate 95 — already have programs regulating stormwater from construction sites.

But the new, tougher stormwater rules will probably require closer reviews of builders’ plans and more inspections of sites, Land said. So even localities running stormwater programs now will probably face greater costs, he said.

The 2012 General Assembly required that local governments run these programs.

“The main rationale was that local governments know their problems, and they know how to handle them,” said Bill Hayden, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Quality.

The state has established fees that localities can charge builders seeking stormwater approval for their projects. The fee for a project that disturbs 1 to 5 acres of land is $2,700. The fee grows as the projects get bigger. The fee is $9,600 if the work covers 100 acres or more.

Some local government officials worry that the fee money will not be enough to cover the costs of running the programs. About 28 percent of each fee goes back to the state, which will continue to have some oversight of the programs.

Joe Lerch, the director of environmental policy for the Virginia Municipal League, said relying on fees to fund the local programs could be a problem because income would depend on the “boom and bust” nature of construction.

The league, which represents all 38 Virginia cities as well as numerous counties and towns, has not taken a position on pushing back the July 1 start date for localities to run the stormwater programs.

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Written by vaphc

January 6, 2014 at 11:08 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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