Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Department of Ecology's Scorched Earth Policy

The cost of the Department of Ecology's nitwit stormwater regulations to Pullman? According to an article in yesterday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News, it's a whopping $4.4 million and counting. And guess who will have to bear the brunt of it? That's right, as always, Mr. and Mrs. Pullman Property Owner.

This doesn't count the hidden costs of businesses that will locate in Idaho to avoid the burdensome and costly stormwater regulations and the $3.3 million in sales taxes that Whitman County will miss out on if Ecology's water right denial chases the Hawkins Companies out of the corridor.

And all over a ditch that would run dry in the summer if not for the effluent flowing downstream from Moscow's sewage treatment plant. When Dino gets elected next year, it's going to be time to clean house at Ecology.
Council hit with stormwater sticker shock; City learns it could cost $4.4 million to meet state mandated guidelines
Members of the Pullman City Council sat in stunned silence Tuesday when they were told a state-mandated stormwater management program may cost the city $4.4 million.

John Knutson, a senior project manager for Otak, a Yakima-based consulting firm, told the council that costs associated with implementing the five-year permit program are higher than expected. The costs likely will add up due to increased equipment, capital and staff services needed to bring the city into compliance with the permits issued Jan. 17 by the Washington State Department of Ecology.

The city also will be expected to pay a yearly permit fee of $5,500.

The permits are designed to manage the quality and quantity of runoff from development and to control stormwater discharges into sewer systems statewide. The requirements are intended to reduce pollution and contamination of downstream waters and require municipalities to manage construction stormwater, detect and eliminate illegal discharges, create good housekeeping practices for existing systems and educate the public.

Knutson suggested the city set up a stormwater utility district, which he expects could cover up to 90 percent costs associated with the permits. The utility district would charge property owners a set amount, similar to water and sewer services.

"It's the most common approach," he said.

The city also could charge development fees, which may bring in $124,000 by the third year. The fees are associated with developers bringing new construction areas up to permit standards. Treatment on existing development and infrastructure is not yet necessary - at least in the first five-year phase.

Councilman Keith Bloom said he understands the importance of being environmentally conscientious, but he's frustrated with the permit program. Even with a tight city budget, he's not sure taxing residents is the right answer since everyone would be affected one way or another. Increased costs to rental property owners, he added, would likely be passed down to tenants.

"We need to (meet permit requirements), but the issue is how do we pay for it," he said. "I don't want to put more pressure on the taxpayers for ... this unfunded mandate."

Councilman Bill Paul agreed.

"I was shocked," he said. "I was shocked about the whole thing."

Paul isn't sure what the best method to recoup the city's losses may be, but he said he would be open to a utility district.

"I just want to make sure it doesn't put hardships on the citizens," he said.

As the first year of the program prepares to sunset, Knutson estimated that the city will have paid $128,000 toward the program - most of which is associated with consulting costs. The city was granted $75,000 by the Department of Ecology earlier this year, though Knutson considers it "seed money" to gain compliance with the permits.

By the third year, Knutson estimated the permit costs will escalate to $1.2 million, with $280,000 accounted for in equipment and $476,800 in staff, fees and overhead.

Knutson also recommended the city build a stormwater reserve account - which in five years could amount to $555,000. He said the money could begin to be saved early on in the program, when overhead costs are low.

Pullman is about eight months behind the permit schedule and is meeting partial compliance minimums, Knutson said. The city should prepare to up its public education and involvement as well as develop stormwater standards, maintenance and good housekeeping training.

"You are under the permits. The deadlines are in effect," he said. "It's going to be a challenge to get it up and running."
Public Works Director Mark Workman has been given the OK to hire a full-time stormwater manager. If a utility district is formed to offset costs associated with the permits, fees could be implemented as early as mid-2008.

1 comment:

April E. Coggins said...

The Department of Ecology can't even tell us what condition our stormwater is now, what it needs to be and how to tell if we have reached their goal. The goal line is invisible, even for the referees, so we may be running the wrong way! But DOE is so smart, they know that only more regulation, education and lots and lots of money can save the endangered water skipper of Paradise Ditch.