Hearing set for Stormwater Management Plan – Most don’t know the ‘devil is in the details’

By Sue Forde, Editor
Citizen Review Online

Port Angeles, WA – 8/27/02 - The move to return the land to “pre-Euro-American settler” condition is a main goal set out in a “model” stormwater management plan that is tucked into a proposed ordinance for the city of Port Angeles.  

A public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. in the Port Angeles City Hall Council Chamber on September 3, with the probable passage of the ordinance to take place on September 17. 

Port Angeles has been on the “fast track” to adopt a new stormwater management plan which includes the state’s “model” manual as promoted by the city’s planning director and public works director.  The staff, according to one city council member, has argued that the state has dictated that the plan must be done, and that there is no alternative other than to develop their own manual which “staff contends will be prohibitively expensive to put together.” 

The “model” Stormwater Management Manual for Western Washington (2001) consists of 1,033 pages of rules and regulations as developed by the WA State Department of Ecology (DOE). DOE states that the 2,000 square feet threshold for impervious surfaces and 7,000 square foot threshold for land disturbance are chosen to “capture most single family home construction and their equivalent”.

After reviewing the manual and related documents, this writer found that…

The plan is a voluntary one – one that is not required by law, and even if it were, would probably not be enforceable due to budget restraints at the state level, according to DOE’s Ed O’Brien, one of the writers of the model plan.  The plan far exceeds the national minimum requirements. It would only go into effect if passed as a city ordinance, apparently the goal of the city “staff”.

The model plan calls for highly restrictive building permits, with plan submissions, compliance, inspections, monitoring and enforcement each playing a part.  Not only would the property owner’s right to use his property to his own highest and best use be restrained, but the cost to the property owner, taxpayer and the county itself would virtually shut down new construction and redevelopment.

The plan is experimental.  The results have not been tested with sound science to determine if they will accomplish the goals. In fact, according to one report, the observations spanning a wide variety of streams showed an “absence of observed instability”.

“Models” are used as the means of determining the effects of impervious area and clearing. Runoff rates shall be calculated using pre-developed condition (The native vegetation and soils that existed at a site prior to the influence of Euro-American settlement.)  The rates are done by “modeling”, since no one was around to actually test “preveloped” conditions.) Models can therefore be skewed to obtain whatever results one wishes, like polling.

According to the DOE, “stormwater” is the “water that runs off surfaces such as rooftops, paved streets, highways, and parking lots.  It can also come from hard, grassy surfaces including lawns, play fields, as well as graveled roads and parking lots.”

DOE states that “land use” decisions are not the issue of the stormwater manual.  They continue, saying that the methods set out in the manual can only “reduce” the impacts of development to water quality and hydrology.  But they cannot “replicate the natural hydrologic functions of the natural watershed that existed before development, nor can they remove sufficient pollutants to replicate the water quality of pre-development conditions….This is because land development, as practiced today, is incompatible with the achievement of sustainable ecosystems.”

Examples of “sustainable ecosystems” include a dramatic reduction in the amount of impervious surfaces and artificially landscaped areas, a dramatic reduction in surfaces to provide “car habitat”, more reliance on rail, bicycles and walking for transportation; and changing “public attitudes” toward preferred housing.

The cost, according to an economic report provided for DOE, shows that the proposed stormwater regulations could cost approximately $570,000 additional on a one-acre commercial lot.  In the residential example, the cost to a single-family residence could cost an extra $60,000 to comply.  If a new home’s cost to a buyer is now $125,000, the regulations would raise that cost to $185,000, pricing many out of the housing market altogether.

The costs of higher property taxes as a result of the increased regulations, decrease in revenues to the county tax base because builders could not build or would relocate, and loss of sales tax revenue because of lost jobs in the housing market would all take their toll in an already economically strapped area.

Clallam County is also looking at passed an ordinance that incorporates the state’s model.  According to one council member, if the city adopts the plan, it will simply give the more hard-core buried in the county staff (and elected to the county commission) just one more excuse to follow suit.

For a White Paper on the Stormwater Management Plan, click here.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]


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