Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"Washington State Department of Ecology sets its sights on Moscow; Agency urges EPA to issue stormwater permit across state line"

It's always a bit weird to read a news story that I know I had a hand in making.

At a December 2006 Pullman Town Hall meeting, I spoke against the Department of Ecology's proposed stormwater permitting for Pullman. I said it would stop needed growth in Pullman and lead to development heading over to Moscow.

Afterwards, I spoke at length about my concerns with David Duncan and three other representatives of the Department of Ecology. One asked me if Moscow were subjected to the same requirements, would that be more fair and ease the pain a bit. Of course, at that time, Moscow had been egregiously interfering in the corridor, opposing James Toyota and the Hawkins development partially based on stormwater concerns. I figured what was good for the goose was good for the gander and said, sure, let Moscow be hoisted on its own petard. Since that time, Ecology employees have been regular readers of Palousitics I have logged somer 25 distinct IP addresses from DOE (it's the 39th highest source of blog traffic.) Has this had anything to do with their thoughts about Moscow? I don't know, but at least partially perhaps.

My stance was validated several months later when Moscow said it would actively oppose stormwater permitting by the EPA, in essence rejecting for itself the standards it was demanding for Whitman County. Pure, unadulterated hypocrisy.

But, after last November's Moscow City Council election, things have changed dramatically. Moscow is now no longer opposing growth in the corridor, but is actively helping it. The Cold War is over.

On the one hand, I think that requiring stormwater permitting for Moscow will maintain a level playing field, reducing the temptation for businesses to locate or relocate there.

On the other hand, stormwater permitting for both cities will just drive all business away from the Palouse when its not necessary, either for us or for Moscow.

Ecology's offer to nail Moscow is nothing more than a bit of disingenuous sugar to make the castor oil go down better. I agree with Keith Bloom that the ultimate win/win is that NEITHER CITY should be forced to comply with the regulations.

From Saturday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Washington State Department of Ecology leaders believe Moscow should be held just as accountable for the quality of its stormwater runoff as in Pullman.

David Duncan, an ecologist with the Water Quality Program in Spokane, said the state supports the possibility of the Environmental Protection Agency's listing Moscow as a small municipal stormwater entity. The designation would force Moscow to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, and develop a comprehensive stormwater management program.

Duncan said Moscow should be issued a permit out of fairness because of its proximity to Pullman and because the two cities share waterways. Pullman was issued a stormwater permit by the Department of Ecology in February 2007 as part of a mandatory, statewide program.

The requirements, which Duncan said could be viewed as more stringent than federal guidelines, 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.

"We believe ... there should be fairness across the state line," said Duncan, adding that Lewiston was issued an EPA stormwater permit because of its proximity to the Washington cities of Clarkston and Asotin. "At the department, people all the way up to the top think Moscow is a significant stormwater pollutant contributor ... We're regulating Pullman, and we think there's a justification that Moscow be included too."

The Moscow City Council sent a letter to the EPA in August, requesting the city not be required to obtain a permit and citing a list of current and proposed steps it is taking to regulate its stormwater.

Misha Vakoc, EPA stormwater permit coordinator in Seattle, said a decision has not yet been made regarding Moscow's participation in the program. She is aware of the Department of Ecology's opinion on the issue.

The city of Pullman and other Washington municipalities are appealing the permits to the state's Pollution Control Hearings Board. Pullman city officials claim the area's unique topography, soil types and clay levels make permit compliance difficult. The hearings board has yet to render a decision on the appeal.

Duncan said Pullman was considered a "bubble city," meaning it was up to ecologists to determine whether the city emits enough pollutants into waterways to be issued a permit.

Moscow Mayor Nancy Chaney said she isn't surprised that Washington state has expressed its concerns to the EPA.

"I think it's perfectly appropriate that the Department of Ecology weighs in with an opinion," she said. "If someone's fishing for animosity, it's not going to happen."

Pullman City Councilman Keith Bloom said he doesn't wish the regulations of a stormwater permit on his Moscow neighbors. Pullman may have to create a new utility to help recover the costs for the first cycle of the 5-year stormwater permit, which has been estimated to be more than $4 million to implement.

"I think that Ecology erred in applying it to Pullman and other smaller cities in eastern Washington," Bloom said. "It will hurt our economy ... Some people may say, 'If we have to clean up the water, sure, it should apply to Moscow, too.' But it's not, 'What's fair for us should be fair for them.' It's not fair for us and it's not fair for them.

"I really don't think one state's agency should be trying to influence the politics of another state ... If I was the city of Moscow, I would be a bit offended that the state of Washington is trying to (impose) their will on me."

Chaney admits an EPA stormwater permit likely would cause a financial hardship for the city, but added that the quality and quantity of water should be a consideration for all municipalities in the area.

"Something should be done," she said. "I think it's absolutely time that this become a regional conversation. We do need to be talking to each other and saying what we think."

Jim Carroll, a Department of Ecology ecologist, said he is deciphering water quality data taken from the South Fork of the Palouse River, Paradise and Missouri Flat creeks and other small tributaries in and around Pullman. The tests - conducted in 2006 and 2007 - will reveal the amount of a particular pollutant that a body of water can contain while still meeting state quality standards.

Test results are expected sometime this summer and will include the levels of bacteria, nutrients, dissolved oxygen, pH, ammonia and temperature in the water.

Carroll said a testing site on Paradise Creek was set up along the Idaho border "to determine what's crossing the line into Washington." He added that the tests are not connected to the state municipal stormwater permits, but are conducted in areas that have historically not met water standards to ensure water quality throughout the Washington.

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