By Stephanie Choate
December 12th, 2013
Residents may soon see a new utility fee on their bills.
As part of a national and statewide effort to address water pollution from runoff, as well as avoid flooding, Williston must comply with newly reissued stormwater guidelines.
Williston is one of 13 municipalities and three institutional entities in the state that must comply with the federal stormwater regulations originally issued by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1999 as part of the Clean Water Act. Those communities are designated as Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems, also known as MS4, and need to manage stormwater runoff in these systems. An MS4 is a system of conveyances—drains, ditches, gutters, etc.—that collects and discharges stormwater into state or federal waters.
Stormwater is rainfall or snowmelt that runs off impervious surfaces such as roofs, paved or gravel roads, driveways and parking lots. As it does so, it carries sediment and other pollutants, like oil or grease, into streams. The extra water can also overwhelm small streams, causing flooding and erosion.
After years of working to satisfy state and federal requirements, the state issued new MS4 permits last December. As part of the requirements, Williston must submit stormwater management and flow restoration plans by 2016 that include ways the town plans to control polluted runoff into waterways. Towns then have up to 20 years to implement those plans.
“It’s a real problem,” Town Manager Rick McGuire said. “We have to deal with it in some way or another.”
“This is going to be a big issue,” Public Works Director Bruce Hoar said. “This issue is a town-wide issue.”
Williston’s Allen Brook is on the state’s list of waterways impaired by stormwater. The Muddy Brook was on the list of stormwater-impaired waterways, but has been removed.
Public Works staff estimates that the amount of work required to bring the stormwater management system into compliance for the new MS4 permit will cost roughly $8 million.
“So the question is, how do we fund all that?” McGuire said. “We don’t have a whole lot of choice in spending that money, and that’s a lot of money for the town to take on as an expense. It affects every property owner. Everyone does benefit from the stormwater system.”
HOW TO PAY
The Selectboard is set to look into funding options at its Dec. 16 meeting, but Hoar, Assistant Public Works Director Lisa Sheltra and McGuire said there are two main options to pay for the improvements: a tax or, the far more likely option, a fee.
The Selectboard has already accepted the concept of a fee, which McGuire said would be the fairest way to proceed. The fee formula would be based on the amount of impervious surface on a property. So, a single-family home would pay much less than, say, a large box store with a massive parking lot.
It’s too early to come up with an estimate of the fee—which would go into effect Jan. 1, 2015, if approved. However, Hoar said it would be less than South Burlington’s stormwater fee, which is $71.28 a year for a single-family home. South Burlington has five items on the impaired waters list.
“The fee would be used for us to stay in compliance with the MS4 permit, which we have to do, period, and for other projects we have to do to keep other waters from becoming impaired,” Hoar said.
The majority would go toward capital projects, which benefit the whole town, McGuire said. Some would also go to cover administrative costs.
Although Williston is ahead of many towns in that it has a draft flow restoration plan, it still requires a massive and complex planning effort. Williston, like many surrounding MS4 towns, is looking into hiring a full-time staff person for an estimated $80,000 to handle its stormwater system and flow restoration plan.
ALLEN BROOK STORMWATER DISCHARGE PERMITS
In addition, neighborhood associations in the Allen Brook watershed that hold expired stormwater discharge permits—one of the permits required by the state for development—must come into compliance.
When the Allen Brook went on the impaired waters list, the state did not reissue the stormwater discharge permits in its watershed, since federal regulations were still in limbo. Stormwater discharge permits in other watersheds are still valid.
Although the town plans to work with neighborhoods to help them come into compliance, neighborhood associations may have to pay to retrofit their stormwater management systems, depending on how the Selectboard opts to move forward.
Williston has 27 expired stormwater discharge permits, but staff did not have an idea of how many homeowners that affects, since the size of the permit holders varies. The large Southridge neighborhood, for example, holds one permit.
Sheltra said costs associated with updating the permits will vary massively in different neighborhoods. Some have been upgrading systems, while others have not been willing to implement sometimes expensive changes without clear guidelines. Some neighborhood associations have also been putting money aside.
The Selectboad decided to bring the stormwater discharge permits under the town’s flow restoration plan, rather than leaving them up to the state to enforce. That could give neighborhoods up to 20 years to implement upgrades.
However, if neighborhoods won’t or can’t be part of the town’s flow restoration plan, the state can use its Residential Designation Authority to enforce upgrades—meaning the neighborhood has until October 2016 to come into compliance.
The next step for expired permit-holders is to conduct an engineering feasibility analysis to see what they have compared to what needs to be done. The town has begun meeting with neighborhood associations to help them figure out what comes next.
Residents with questions should contact the Public Works Department at 878-1239.