Friday, October 31, 2014

Stormwater fee washes in

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 1/2/2014

More stringent regulations regarding stormwater runoff have yet to trickle down from the Environmental Protection Agency.

But Andy Haney, the City of Ottawa’s public works director, said he knows they are coming.

More stringent regulations regarding stormwater runoff have yet to trickle down from the Environmental Protection Agency.

But Andy Haney, the City of Ottawa’s public works director, said he knows they are coming.

Concerns about meeting unfunded EPA mandates regarding the city’s stormwater runoff into the Marais des Cygnes River also have necessitated the need for the city to put a funding mechanism in place to help defray the cost of stormwater system repairs and maintenance, Haney said Monday.

The city’s new stormwater utility fee, which went into effect Wednesday, would help defray some of those costs.

Some states and other entities have filed lawsuits against the EPA, and that litigation could take years, not months, to work its way through the court system, Haney said.

The suits boil down to EPA regulations regarding Chesapeake Bay, which extends through Virginia and Maryland, Haney said.

“Chesapeake Bay is dirty, and it drains a large part of the Northeast part of the United States,” Haney said. “The EPA decided the rules that are necessary for Chesapeake Bay should apply nationwide, and that’s what has prompted the legal entanglements.”

Despite those challenges, Haney said, he thinks the EPA still will come out with new clean water regulations for cities the size of Ottawa regarding stormwater runoff. Those unfunded mandates usually come attached with local dollar signs, city officials said.

Currently the city must comply with clean water regulations issued by the EPA. Since 2003, Ottawa has been a participant in the EPA National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, city officials said. The program requires the city to monitor and prevent pollutants entering local waterways. Failure to prevent and monitor pollutants in local waterways could result in “significant fines” issued by the EPA, city officials said.

SHORING UP

SYSTEM

The new utility fee, which would provide funds to help shore up the city’s aging stormwater system, has generated little buzz from residents thus far.

Residential properties and units will pay a flat fee of $4 per month, which will be reflected on customers’ monthly utility bills starting with January’s billing statements, Scott Bird, the city’s finance director, said.

The city included information about the new stormwater utility fee in customers’ December billing statements, Sam Davis, the city’s stormwater utility management analyst, said.

“We’ve had a couple of phone calls from residents who saw [the information in the December statements], but I really haven’t fielded any concerns about the fee,” Davis said.

The fee, approved by Ottawa city commissioners in April 2012, will generate funds for the city’s stormwater management program approved as part of a master plan about seven years ago, Haney said.

The City of Ottawa in 2007 adopted a master plan to deal with stormwater problems that continue to bubble to the surface. From that plan, the city identified a series of projects that need to be completed in the next 10 years to keep the city’s stormwater system sound. The projects will carry an estimated price tag of nearly $15.2 million, Haney said previously, and range from an estimated $3.53 million system replacement at Oak and Poplar streets to a $104,400 pump replacement at the Willow Street pumping station, according to city documents.

Even without the major refurbishing projects, normal maintenance and rehabilitation of the city’s existing storm drain pipes is expected to cost the city about $290,000 annually, Haney estimated when commissioners mulled over implementing the fee.

While the project list hasn’t changed since the stormwater fee was adopted in spring 2012, Haney said Monday, the order could be shuffled.

“They’re all necessary projects,” Haney said. “The priorities will change [during the next 10 years], because we may see growth in different areas than we originally anticipated.”

Without a stormwater utility fee, the city has been forced to take money from its street rehabilitation fund to cover the cost of needed stormwater system repairs, Haney and Bird have said.

UTILITY FEE STRUCTURE

While residential properties and units will pay a flat fee of $4 per month — $48 per year — non-residential properties, including businesses, industries, churches, schools, non-profits and governmental properties, are calculated by taking the property’s total amount of impervious space and dividing that total by the Equivalent Residential Unit of 2,600 square feet, city officials said. A business with an impervious footprint of 19.3 ERUs (50,000 square feet) would receive a stormwater utility bill of $76.80 per month, according to city calculations.

Development of the stormwater utility fee was based on recommendations from a city-appointed Stormwater Task Force Committee comprised of residents, non-profit leaders, small business owners and industrial facility representatives, stormwater utility analyst Davis said.

“Their recommendations helped develop a final proposal given to the city commission,” Davis said. “One of the main tenants of the stormwater utility is equality and fairness. That is, the fee should be based on how much stormwater each property generates. The more impervious area — where water cannot soak into the ground — a property has, the more stormwater it generates.”

The fact business owners, industrial facility representatives and non-profit leaders and other members of the community were involved in researching the stormwater issue and developing a proposal to present to the city in 2012 might account for the reason the city has not received concerns thus far from non-residential users, city officials said.

“I haven’t heard concerns so far [from non-residential customers],” Davis said Monday.

The stormwater utility fee was to go into effect in January 2013, but was delayed for one year while the city overhauled and upgraded its utility billing software, finance director Bird said. The city is not going to retroactively collect any missed fees due to this software delay, city officials said.

Additional information about the stormwater utility and stormwater management can be found at: http://www.ottawaks.gov/Departments/PublicWorks/Stormwater/tabid/169/Default.aspx 122413stormwater

The city also has tried to be proactive in assisting businesses and other entities, Davis said, such as making the Ottawa school district aware it could receive a 10 percent credit on its stormwater utility bills if it includes an educational component about stormwater runoff in its curriculum.

The city has established a system of credits for businesses and individuals who address stormwater needs on their properties. Some of those proposed credits include residential rain barrels, residential rain gardens [bioretention], installation of stormwater detention ponds or systems, stormwater education programs and other such quality improvements as use of native vegetation, green roofs, cisterns and buffer restorations.

“We had a few residents that submitted applications for credits last year,” Davis said. “We’ll start out initially by going ahead and applying those credits, and then we’ll go out and verify [rain barrels are in place, for example] once the weather gets warm out.”

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