Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, May 23, 2008

"Washington stormwater rules hit state highway department; Department of Transportation permit will run about $16M to implement"

The out-of-control state bureaucracy is eating itself now. The headline should read, "Department of Transportation permit will cost taxpayers about $16M a year to implement," however, because WSDOT doesn't actually generate a profit. We pay the bills through our nationally-high gas taxes and vehicle registration fees. So who do you think will be picking up this new tab?

This stormwater monster needs to have a stake driven through its heart and fast, before it destroys the whole state.

From yesterday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
The Washington State Department of Transportation soon will expand its regulation of stormwater runoff from state highways, park-and-ride lots, ferry terminals, maintenance facilities and rest stops.

The state Department of Ecology has drafted a stormwater permit specific to WSDOT that likely will go into effect in July.

The permit is equivalent to one issued to the city of Pullman in February 2007, designed to manage the quality and quantity of runoff from development and to control stormwater discharge into waterways. Ecology also is pressing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue Moscow a similar permit because of its effect on area rivers and streams across the Washington border.

State Transportation Communications Director Lloyd Brown said how the pending permit will affect the Pullman area - and specifically the Pullman-Moscow Highway and the adjacent Paradise Creek - is unknown. The highway's recent widening project was constructed using best management practices and likely won't need to be retrofitted to meet the new permit's requirements.

"We're not new to stormwater management. We've had stormwater practices in place for two decades or more," he said. "We know the effect of stormwater on the local environment."

Brown said the new permit is expected to cost the transportation department nearly $16 million more per year to implement. Most of the costs will come from increased inspection and maintenance, along with the additional inventory and mapping duties to ensure stormwater runoff is managed and properly disposed of. The department has up to 24,000 discharge points into state waterways which will need increased monitoring.

Brown said the two state agencies are expected to work together with state legislators to find money to pay for the expanded permit program.

Bill Hashim, an environmental planner with the Department of Ecology, said most state highway infrastructure was built before the federal Clean Water Act was set in motion, which means that some older, existing highways may need to be upgraded to meet the requirements of new stormwater standards.

"A rule of thumb is if you own a place where water flows, whether or not you generate it, it's your problem," Hashim said. That means the stormwater that runs across the Pullman-Moscow Highway before it enters Paradise Creek "is their problem."

Brown said the new permit will replace the transportation department's existing National Pollution Discharge Elimination System. Many cities on the state's west side are expected to meet similar regulations as part of Ecology's municipal stormwater permit Phase 1. Cities in the eastern portion of the state were issued similar permits during Phase 2 in 2007.

Hashim said it makes sense to issue the transportation department its own permit.

"Since their highway system is so unlike any municipalities and their facilities are so unlike a municipalities, we wanted to tailor a permit for them," he said.

Hashim said the department will be required to increase its testing of stormwater into area waterways for both the type and amount of pollution found in runoff and the effectiveness of best management practices. Whether or not this testing will occur along Paradise Creek has yet to be determined. He said the transportation department will choose five testing sites statewide and have been asked to choose an eastern Washington location where traffic counts are between 30,000-100,000 vehicles per day.

"The potential could be that the urbanizing corridor between Moscow and Pullman could be chosen," he said. "My guess is that it will be the Spokane area or the Pullman area that they pick."

A comment period opened Wednesday to allow for public input of the drafted permit. It is available online at www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/stormwater/municipal/wsdot.html.

Written and oral comments on the drafted permit will be accepted through 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 24 to Hashim at bhas461@ecy.wa.gov, or by mail to P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, WA. 98504. Two workshops also have been scheduled to further explain the permit and answer questions from the public. The workshop for this region will be at 1 p.m., June 4 in Spokane at the Spokane Shadle Library.

After the workshops, Ecology will weigh public comment and concern and draft a formal permit, which likely will go into effect by July, Hashim said.

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