Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Red Stormwater Rising

Well, I hope the envirocrats at the Department of Ecology are happy. Their inane stormwater permitting is going to hurt Pullman's two most successful private businesses: Duane Brelsford, Jr.'s Corporate Pointe Developers and SEL. In fact, SEL now says it is reconsidering any further expansion in Pullman. Pullman immune from the national economic slowdown? Not for much longer....

The next time Dino Rossi is in Whitman County, we will have to plead our case to him and hope that he will provide some relief when he is (re)elected governor. It's for sure the Queen will never help us.

From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
PULLMAN: Stormwater costs discourage businesses

Corporate Pointe Developers, SEL among those who will have to pay the most

Duane Brelsford doesn't have much to say about Pullman's proposed stormwater utility ordinance.

The Corporate Pointe Developers president may be one of those hardest hit by the ordinance, which will charge stormwater fees to businesses and home owners within city limits.

"What can I say? We actually don't have a say," he said. "The state imposes it on the city and the city imposes it on people with impervious surfaces. No one has the money to handle this."

The fees are expected to be based on outdoor impervious surfaces, which means that Brelsford's more than 5 million square feet of property - which includes about 1,600 living units and retail spaces such as the Pullman Athletic Club and Fireside Grille - could cost him as much as $100,000 a year in fees.

Pullman leaders are drafting the ordinance that likely will be implemented by Oct. 1. Stormwater Services Manager Rob Buchert said the new utility is the city's most realistic option to recover the costs associated with the Washington State Department of Ecology-issued municipal stormwater permit. The permits were issued to municipalities throughout the state in 2007 and are designed to manage the quality and quantity of runoff from development and to control stormwater discharge into area waterways.

Buchert said the city needs to bring in about $800,000 per year to pay for costs associated with the five-year permit, estimated at about $4.4 million. The utility fees will help create a new arm of the city maintenance department to oversee the nearly 1,000 stormdrains and roughly 80 pipes that discharge stormwater into area waterways and will help create a savings account to pay for costs associated with the second permit cycle, which is to begin in 2012.

Consultants aiding the city in drafting the ordinance have taken aerial photographs to calculate an estimated fee structure. They have estimated that single-family homes in Pullman have about 3,500 square feet of impervious surfaces on average, and that figure has been determined to be one equivalent billing unit at a cost of a proposed $7 per month.

For developed nonresidential property, the square footage of impervious surface would be divided by 3,500 to determine the number of billing units. Impervious surfaces include the asphalt in parking lots and roofs on structures, which do not allow water to penetrate, causing untreated runoff to stream into area waterways.

Susan Fagan, director of public affairs for Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, finds the proposed ordinance discouraging, considering the company takes measures to prevent stormwater pollution and employs the best management practices for every construction project on its Pullman campus.

"We have done a lot of stormwater pollution prevention. We care about the environment in which we operate and we care about the environment in which we live ... but this seems like overkill," she said.

Fagan said SEL owns 800,000 square feet of impervious surface, and the company could have to pay an annual stormwater utility fee of about $20,000. That additional cost could mean the company may rethink ideas to build further facilities on the campus. SEL's most recent plans included construction of a hotel to complement the SEL Event Center built in 2006.

The proposed ordinance "certainly causes us to pause and question whether we would expand in Pullman," she said. "Expansion means growth and jobs and investment in our community. And when it becomes unreasonable ... responsible businesses are going to give a lot of thought to whether or not they should expand. Every square foot you pave or put a building on, or create some impervious surface, you'll be punished."

Fagan said the costs likely will be passed on to consumers of the company's high-tech products.

"How does any company recover its costs? Either you suck it up and absorb it, or you pass it on to your customers. And anytime there's added expense, it's obviously going to impact our customers," she said.

Brelsford agreed. He said rental rates on his dwelling units likely will go up, and he'll also have to charge more to his retail renters, which will likely result in increased costs to their customers.

"All the costs will be passed on. It'll increase the cost of living in Pullman, which is already high," he said. "Will the market support that added debt? That's the challenge."

Living Faith Fellowship Administrator Tom Weaver said the church doesn't have the convenience of passing the cost onto customers. He estimates the church may be required to pay roughly $6,500 per year in stormwater utility fees for its worship facility and private Pullman Christian School.

"We're a nonprofit," he said. "It would be a tremendous burden. We're all for clean water and all for being responsible citizens ... but the fees and taxes will be a huge burden that we didn't plan for."

Weaver said the congregation has been financially supportive of the church, but asking more of them would be tough. Raising tuition at Pullman Christian School is a last resort.

"We have to face it when it comes," he said.

Buchert said credits on stormwater fees likely will be available, though they're limited for now. The draft ordinance allows a 20-percent credit to entities that have a National Pollutant Discharge and Elimination System, which is a permitting system under the federal 1972 Clean Water Act. Only four entities qualify for the credit - the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport, UPS and the city transit and sewer treatment plant. Washington State University, which was issued a municipal stormwater permit as a secondary permittee, also will receive a 20-percent credit.

Credits of as much as 20 percent will be granted to commercial or industrial businesses that harvest rainwater, most commonly used for landscape irrigation. The credit will only apply to impervious surfaces the water is harvested from, such as rooftops, and does not apply to home owners at this time.

Buchert said schools throughout Pullman - both private and public - will be eligible for credits of as much as 20 percent for participating in stormwater or surface water education.

"To get there, we have to justify to the other ratepayers and pretty much the state auditor that the schools are providing services that are equal or greater than the fees," he said.

Buchert added that not only home and business owners in Pullman will be responsible for utility fees. The city itself will also fork over money for its impervious surfaces, though streets are exempt since they'll be considered part of the stormwater facility.

"It's very important that everyone pays, even the city," he said. "We're asking every community member large and small to help us participate in this and participate in being in compliance."


Satanic Mechanic said...

I heard about this on the radio. I can't believe Olympia-Seattle is imposing these laws on Pullman. Does this impact the Hawkins Corridor project? I know this is for the city of Pullman, but I do not know what are the current borders of Pullman (did Pullman annex up to the state line?). I hope this does not scare away Wal-Mart.

Satanic Mechanic said...

Additional- will WSU be under the same regulations because of its proximity?

Tom Forbes said...

No, Hawkins is not affected as they are wholly in the county. Only cities are required to implement the stormwater permitting, not counties (Whitman County doesn't have a sewer system, but that was a whole different problem for Hawkins.) Wal-Mart had already designed its site plan to meet the Phase II stormwater standards (they saw it coming), so no big impact on them, other than the yearly fees. Of course, those fees fall the hardest on local businesses. $10-20,000 a year in fees for Wal-Mart is just a drop in the bucket.

Yes, WSU is also required to implement the stormwater permitting as a secondary permittee to the city. WSU will have to cover the fees by either asking the Legislature for money, passing the costs along to students, or both. They cannot create a stormwater utility district for taxing purposes like Pullman.

April E. Coggins said...

As I recall, the DOE has no idea how clean or dirty our stormwater is now and they have no idea what it should be in the future. All they know for sure is that we must be regulated in order to protect a fish that is considered a trash fish and if you catch one, the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife will pay you money to kill it.

Mattwi said...

Uh.. isn't large scale rainwater harvesting still illegal in WA?

HB 1424 - 2007-08

WA.GOV has been trying to figure out the fine line between small scale and large scale collecting... They've been sitting on this distinction for the last 5 legislative sessions.

Not a big surprise here though in WA... Washington State law requires that any person or entity wanting to use a portion of the public’s water must obtain a water right permit from Ecology.

even though they cannot figure out small scale VS large scale...

This just boils down to $$$, WA.GOV will look the other way on anything as long as you "Show them the $$$"

April E. Coggins said...

My deep dark, conspirital theory is that this is Western Washington/Eastern Washington thing. Or boiled down further, a Husky vs. Cougar thing. The Huskies can't stand to see success in Pullman and will do everything in its power to stop Pullman from succeeding. After enough years in Pullman to witness this crap, I can't help but feel that whenever Pullman raises its head, the western Washington legislators are standing ready to chop it off.

By all means, Mayor Nickels, let's go our separate ways. King County would make a fine Taiwan. Nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there.

Tom Forbes said...

Gordon Forgey had an editorial in this week's Whitman County Gazette that touched on a similar theme.

It seems sea lions have been congregating at Bonneville Dam to eat salmon. So they decided to move the sea lions to a zoo in Seattle. During the moving process, one sea lion was killed by accident. So, you guessed it, the American Humane Society is seeking an injunction to stop the removal of the sea lions.