Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, April 25, 2008

"City planning for stormwater utility changes; Forum will address ordinance, how it will affect residents, business owners"

Get ready to open up your wallets, Pullman residents and business owners. The Department of Ecology's $4 million unfunded mandate to save non-existent salmon in the Palouse River is going to be funded by someone: Y-O-U. Too bad more people didn't stand up to try and stop this insanity. Now it's too late.

From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Pullman city leaders are working on a plan to cover the costs incurred by a mandatory statewide stormwater permit program.

Stormwater Services Manager Rob Buchert said an ordinance soon will be presented to create a municipal stormwater utility, aimed to bring in about $800,000 from residents per year.

Buchert said the ordinance is a necessary evil to help the city pay for the first cycle of a five-year Washington Department of Ecology permit that has been estimated to cost roughly $4 million to implement. The ordinance will have to be approved by the City Council.

"This is not an additional tax," Buchert said. "This is a fee for services, just like water and sewer."

The state issued permits to municipalities in January 2007 that set strict guidelines on stormwater management. The permits were designed to manage the quality and quantity of runoff from development and to control stormwater discharge into sewer systems. The requirements are intended to help municipalities detect and eliminate illegal discharges, reduce contamination of downstream waters, create good housekeeping practices for existing systems and educate the public.

Buchert said the fees will help pay for inventory and maintenance of the city's estimated 1,000 storm drain catch basins and roughly 80 pipes that empty into area waterways, such as the North Fork of the Palouse River and Missouri Flat Creek.

"You never know when someone will dump motor oil (down a storm drain), or which pipe will be affected by pollution next," he said, noting that obvious toxins include antifreeze and motor oil, though soap from car washes also can be dangerous because it can change water's pH balance.

"The cumulation of all of those - without a doubt - will have an effect on our waterways," he said.

Public Works Director Mark Workman said the utility payments will be collected from residents and businesses that pay Pullman for water and sewer. People who own land in city limits that isn't served by utilities, such as compacted gravel parking lots, also will be subject to fees because of the impervious surfaces of their property.

Impervious surfaces include rooftops, sidewalks, roads, and parking lots covered by impenetrable materials such as asphalt, concrete, brick and stone, Workman said. These materials seal surfaces, repel water and prevent precipitation from infiltrating the soil, leading to runoff.

Workman said the original goal was to present the draft ordinance to the public during a stormwater information forum slated for Monday at Pullman City Hall. But the language requires more tweaking and the draft more likely will be presented to residents sometime in May. However, residents will get a sense of how the permits work and a ballpark figure of what they may have to pay in fees at Monday's meeting.

Buchert said the forum, which will be led by a panel of speakers and include a question-and-answer session, is designed to fulfill the public information requirement of the permit. The forum is sponsored by the city, Pullman League of Women Voters and the Pullman Chamber of Commerce.

"Step one is really getting people to realize that none of the storm drains go into the wastewater treatment plant. It's going into the waterways," he said. "The Department of Ecology really wants to see an active campaign to make people aware of how their actions affect water in the storm-drain system."

Buchert said the first few years of the permit focus on education. The state won't begin strictly monitoring progress until the third year.

Workman said some residents may find it difficult to understand what they're paying for.

"It's not like you can say, 'Well, for this monthly payment, I'm getting this service.' It's a much harder concept to sort of get your arms around, because it's more general and programmatic," he said. "There's much more to the stormwater program that we're being required to implement ... It's related to overall cleaning up the environment through program methods."


WHAT: Pullman stormwater information forum

WHEN: 7 p.m. Monday

WHERE: Pullman City Hall

WHY: The forum is designed to kick-start the public education portion of a Washington State Department of Ecology municipal stormwater permit issued to the city in January 2007. The forum will be led by a panel of speakers from the city, Department of Ecology, Washington State University and Otak, Inc., a consulting firm that has helped the city with the initial phases of the permit cycle. The forum will be televised on local channel 13. Residents unable to attend the forum but who have questions can contact Rob Buchert at (509) 338-3314 or by e-mail at rob.buchert@pullman-wa.gov.

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