September 23, 2017

Board stands pat on stormwater

Zittritsch’s campaign to increase town’s responsibility fails

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

Theresa Zittritsch fulfilled a campaign promise Tuesday when she laid out a motion to change the way the Town of Williston supports its neighborhoods’ stormwater management responsibilities.

The first-year Williston Selectboard member got involved in town government as the vice president of a homeowner’s association studying the ramifications of Williston’s existing stormwater policy, passed in 2015. She won a seat on the board in March with a message that there is inequity in the way the policy supports different neighborhoods and what amounts to double taxation on homeowners’ responsibilities for town-owned roads.

When the board met Tuesday, after deliberating potential policy changes over several meetings this spring, Zittritsch made a motion to rescind the current policy and pass a revised policy where the town would take responsibility for road runoff and stormwater infrastructure maintenance for all neighborhoods with stormwater management responsibilities.

“We need to treat all the neighborhoods the same,” she said.

The motion was greeted with silence from board members Joy Limoge, Terry Macaig, Ted Kenney and Jeff Fehrs. It died for lack of a second.

“The existing policy stands,” Macaig announced.

Before Zittritsch’s motion, Fehrs offered support for the concept of the town taking over maintenance for all neighborhoods’ stormwater infrastructure. Eighteen older neighborhoods have state stormwater permits that have expired, and upgrades — designed to capture and clean stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces before it enters Allen Brook, which is a state-designated impaired waterway — are required. Neighborhood responsibilities range from $4,000 of improvements to $800,000.

The town’s current policy is to support these neighborhoods with grant applications to help homeowners pay for the upgrades, then take over the long-term maintenance of the new infrastructure.

Newer Williston neighborhoods have stormwater permits that are still valid, and the town’s policy is to leave long-term maintenance of their stormwater infrastructure the responsibility of the homeowners.

“Are we treating one group of permit holders differently than another group, and what is the justification for doing that?” Fehrs asked at the June 6 selectboard meeting.

Williston Stormwater Coordinator James Sherrard explained that their different permitting statuses call for a different approach.

“Yes, we are treating them differently in a manner we hope is fair,” he said. “The valid permits haven’t had clouds over their titles. They haven’t been in limbo with regard to their permitting status. By virtue of what the state has created, they are already different. Therefore, we must treat them slightly differently.”

Kenney said the existing policy strikes the best balance in a “very turbulent situation.”

“I do think there is a difference between the 18 neighborhoods that are going to have to spend a significant amount of money and the other neighborhoods that are newer and don’t have this burden,” Kenney said at the June 6 meeting.

“Fair doesn’t mean equal,” he continued. “I don’t know if this is fair or not. I don’t think anything is going to be fair … The state’s bureaucratic and regulatory leadership in this area has been really bad. And I don’t expect that’s going to change.”

Zittritsch’s argument about the town taking responsibility for the runoff of town-owned roads went unsupported by other board members. She noted that nearly half of a neighborhood’s impervious surface comes from the road, which residents already support through property taxes.

“(The town) takes ownership of it in every other aspect except stormwater,” she said. “They plow it, they fix it. They should own the stormwater runoff. There is no justification for it. It’s not a big dollar (amount), it’s just fundamentally unfair.”

She notes that the City of South Burlington has a policy of municipal responsibility for public road runoff.

The selectboard is also wrestling with the fair distribution of grant funds to help neighborhoods pay for stormwater infrastructure. According to Sherrard, the town has applied for six state grants to support neighborhoods in their stormwater upgrades.

On Tuesday, the board tabled consideration of a grant distribution formula that would have distributed funds based on a 50-50 split between the estimated construction cost and the acreage of impervious surface in a neighborhood. The board asked Sherrard to work up the policy based on the construction cost per household instead of the overall neighborhood cost to compare the two before setting the policy.

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