Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"City puts brakes on stormwater ordinance; Manager says drafted ordinance will be re-evaluated to make sure it serves 'community as a whole'"

Hallelujah. Pullman merchants and property owners have a brief respite from the business-killing effects of the Department of Ecology's new stormwater mandates.

Of course, if businesses don't bear the majority of the financial burden, then homeowners will. I just wish the ordinance would be finalized before November. That way, Pullman residents could adequately express their feelings toward the Democrats in Olympia that have forced this upon us.

From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Kevin Kirkman doesn't believe enough thought was put into the stormwater utility ordinance that was presented to the Pullman City Council in June.

Kirkman, who owns KIP Development in Pullman, said the ordinance doesn't provide incentives to developers that use the environmentally sound management practices already mandated by the city.

Kirkman was among a handful of residents who commented on the drafted ordinance, presented to the council June 3. The comments have led Pullman leaders and staff to shelve the ordinance until it can be tweaked to "best serve the community as a whole," city Stormwater Manager Rob Buchert said.

Kirkman said he has properties throughout Pullman designed in a "forward thinking way" to eliminate stormwater runoff with biofiltration devices and irrigation systems.

"We can't pay for a system to be installed, maintain it and then be charged a tax on it," he said. "We're discharging clean water and there was nothing in the ordinance that addressed that ... If you don't have any discharges, how can you be taxed on something that doesn't exist?"

The ordinance will be re-evaluated and returned to the council for final review in November, rather than August as originally planned. The utility is expected to be in place by spring.

"Once this thing is an ordinance, it becomes more difficult to change," Buchert said. "We want to make every effort to ensure that when we take this to council we have as much support as possible. If it takes a few more months to tailor this to meet Pullman's needs ... that's OK."

The utility ordinance was drafted in response to a municipal stormwater permit issued last year by the Washington State Department of Ecology. Its purpose is to manage the quality and quantity of runoff from development and to control stormwater discharge into sewer systems. The estimated cost for the city to meet requirements in the permit's first five years is $4.4 million.

A consulting firm for the city reported that single-family homes in Pullman have an average of 3,500 square-feet of impervious surface, and that amount has been determined as one equivalent billing unit at a cost of $7 per month. The draft ordinance was followed by a public comment period and only five members of the community formally voiced their opinion on the impending law.

Buchert said the limited feedback isn't enough to know if the draft ordinance is best for Pullman.

Most of the comments pertained to current city laws requiring developers to use environmentally sound stormwater management practices, such as retention ponds to help with water flow and biofiltration systems in parking lots with more than 10 spots. Buchert said the developers and business owners who commented would like their efforts to yield a credit on the stormwater fees.

In the draft ordinance, credits are offered to entities with National Pollutant Discharge and Elimination Systems - a permitting system through the federal 1972 Clean Water Act. Up to 20 percent credits also are available for commercial or industrial businesses that harvest rainwater and public and private schools that pledge to participate in stormwater or surface-water education.

"We definitely wanted to honor the comments submitted and go back to the drawing board on this thing," Buchert said. "Pullman has been discussing this for over three years, so I don't think we've rushed into everything, but we want to approach it as carefully and prudently as possible."

Kirkman hopes that's the case.

"I'm encouraged that there's going to be more thought put into this," he said. "It's going to have a real financial impact on property owners."

Buchert said many portions of the ordinance could be altered following further discussion, including the $7 billing unit.

"If there's any way we can think outside the box to get that rate lower, we'll do everything in our power to do that," he said.

Buchert said the city needs the income from the utility to help recover the costs associated with the permit, but added that big-ticket items such as equipment and additional employees will not be necessary until 2009. Until the utility is created, money will continue to come from the city's street budget.

"From a program management perspective I would have loved to have a budget yesterday, but we'll make it happen," he said. "It is coming. This thing is not going away."

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