Permit costs concern Williston (4/29/10)

State may require towns to fund stormwater management

April 29, 2010

By Greg Duggan

Observer staff

Williston and numerous homeowners associations in the town could very well be responsible for paying to upgrade and monitor stormwater management systems in the near future.

Williston is one of eight cities and towns in the state that needs to comply with the federal stormwater regulations originally issued by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1999. Those communities all have municipal separate storm sewer systems, also known as MS4, and need to manage stormwater runoff in these systems.

Now, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation is reissuing the so-called MS4 permits, and released a draft permit in January. Written comments about the draft could be submitted through April 22.

Bruce Hoar, Williston’s Public Works director, submitted comments for the town. While he noted that Williston believes in improving water quality in Vermont, he also wrote “to express our great concern that the majority of the newly drafted permit is an unfunded mandate and that the State is deferring the costs directly to the MS4’s.”

Since the issuance of the 1999 permit, Williston has come up with a stormwater management plan. According to information on the town Web site, management steps include street cleaning to reduce the amount of sediment washed into waterways and the creation of stream bank buffers.

Williston’s Allen Brook is considered impaired by stormwater. The Muddy Brook was on the list of stormwater impaired waterways, but has been removed.

Hoar said the town is trying to limit the amount of stormwater flowing into the Allen Brook. As rains run off impervious surfaces — roads and parking lots, for instance — water carries sediment and other pollutants into the stream. Furthermore, the extra water flowing in the brook causes greater erosion, which means more sediment flowing through the water.

Hoar wrote in his comments that the town recognizes the importance of stream monitoring and implementing a flow restoration program, but fears the draft MS4 permit places too much of the financial responsibility of doing so on municipalities. The permit also does not allow enough time to develop a flow restoration program, Hoar wrote.

Hoar and Lisa Sheltra, Williston’s engineer technician, said the town is waiting for the state to run a model that will estimate a cost for the management program. Estimated costs for management plans for Potash and Bartlett brooks in South Burlington came out to approximately $25 million and $5.8 million respectively, Sheltra said, though neither she nor Hoar would speculate on what those numbers meant for an Allen Brook restoration plan.

“We’re hoping for the lower end of the cost, but we won’t know until the state runs a model,” Sheltra said.

The town will need to work with numerous homeowners associations to come up with and pay for stormwater management systems that will comply with the MS4 permit.

One possibility to pay for stormwater management is the creation of a town or regional utility that would charge fees, though Hoar said it was too early to elaborate on such a plan.

The town also wants to work with homeowners associations to try to obtain funding through the clean water state revolving fund, which can provide low-interest loans.

“If the permit takes effect, it is a permit we’ll have to comply with,” Hoar said. “The state is trying to shift most of the responsibility to municipalities.”