Planning commission faces push to “fast track” stormwater regs – Members raise questions about increased taxes, costs to property owners

By Sue Forde, Citizen Review Online

Clallam County, WA - August 2, 2002 – Property owners and taxpayers in Clallam County may be facing the most stringent, costly regulations yet, if a proposed stormwater management plan gets passed by the county commissioners.

The Clallam County Planning Commission (PC) has been working on a stormwater management plan to comply with the Washington State Department of Ecology’s (DOE) “model” plan.  According to DOE, the plan must comply with the “stormwater element” of the Puget Sound Water Quality Management Plan (PSWQMP) – an all-encompassing plan calling for planning, restoration, monitoring and enforcement to “protect the environment.”

The documents presented for the workshop consist of approximately 42 pages; however, the “model” plan prepared by the state Department of Ecology, contains some 1,033 pages of rules and regulations!

A “speaker presentation” has been set for Wednesday, August 7 beginning at 6:30.  The planning commission meeting will start at 6 p.m.  Four speakers will present the information about the proposed plan, including Valerie Wilson, Clallam County Department of Community Development, Natural Resources Division; John Cambalik, Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team (Local Liaison); Ed O’Brien, Washington State Department of Ecology; and Barbara Kitchens, Regional Government Affair Director, Washington Association of Realtors.

Wilson will inform the audience why local management problems support a “more stringent and comprehensive approach to local stormwater management, which include “non-point pollution sources”, and “irrigation systems used for stormwater conveyance.”

Cambalik will talk about local stormwater management rules, including timelines, and potential impacts to local governments for not complying, which include penalties (e.g. funding for road projects), and failure to qualify for state/federal grants/loans and/or be less competitive in such programs.

According to the program outline, the Planning Commission feels that an understanding of the cost and benefits of local adoption of more stringent rules is critical to obtaining “community buy-in to adopting and paying for new stormwater management rules.” 

There are potential additional costs to the developer and landowner in complying with more stringent standards, and there is increased cost to local jurisdictions and taxpayers to pay for administration of local programs, according to Cambalik. He will discuss upcoming state or federal grants that are available to help pay for initial program administration (i.e. staffing for plan review, inspections, monitoring and enforcement.)

O’Brien will talk about the DOE’s “model” stormwater management manual for Western Washington, and why the threshold for “land disturbing activities” is “very restrictive” in comparison to previous permits.  Property affected will be as small as one acre under the new rules.

O’Brien will answer questions raised about whether local governments will be expected to regulate ALL land disturbing activities, including such actions as adding a patio to an existing single-family dwelling, rototilling lawn/garden, converting pasture to lawn, etc. will be regulated.

He’ll also talk about preparation of “Stormwater Site Plans (SSP)”, and who prepares them, typical costs, and level of expertise necessary to prepare one.  An example offered on a typical Sequim area residence is “construction and land disturbing activities related to a single-family residential and accessory uses (e.g. driveway, lawn, etc) on a typical rural size lot (1 to 5 acres) previously farmed (none or little native vegetation remains) that contain well-drained soils, located within the low rainfall areas of eastern Clallam County.”

The regulations will apparently cover virtually everyone who owns an acre or more of property.  Cambalik will talk about the possibility of using “standard plans/conditions” for single-family home construction and accessory uses and other small-scale land disturbing activities to be used in lieu of SSP.”  He’ll also bring out what steps landowners can take to save on the cost of preparing and implementing SSP’s, and will address the “typical local staffing and administration needs and program costs to effectively conduct plan review, inspection, monitoring, and enforcement in compliance with the 2001 Manual for a jurisdiction the size of Clallam County.”

In reviewing the Stormwater Maintenance” section of the model Plan, several items are of note:

1)      Whichever County Code, State or Federal requirement that provides the most environmental protection shall apply;

2)      The property owner bears the full responsibility and cost to maintain, repair and renew all private stormwater disposal systems located on their property;

3)      If the property owner fails to comply, the city or county may choose to perform the maintenance, and charge the property owner, or condemn the property as a “health and safety nuisance” and assume ownership;

4)      Minimum requirements of the model plan include an “annual inspection” – where “lack of maintenance is causing or contributing to a water quality problem, or when any of the conditions described in the Manual exist, correction must be made within one month.

5)      Open drainage swales and ditches on private property shall be cleaned, maintained and protected in continuous compliance with the standards and specifications;

6)      If there is “cause to believe” that a violation has been or is being committed, the Director is authorized to inspect to determine compliance;

7)      If the property owner doesn’t consent to the inspection, the inspector can obtain a search warrant to enter the property.

8)      If the owner fails to comply, they will receive a “notice” and a lien on their property.  Once notice is given, the assessment will be double the cost of the repairs or maintenance done by the “authorities”.

9)      Only government owned property will be exempt;

10)  Choice of enforcement action taken and the severity of any penalty shall be based on the nature of the violation, the damage or risk to the public to to public resources, and/or the degree of bad faith of the persons subject to the enforcement action.

11)  Failure to comply will result in a civil penalty assessment.

12)  Penalties will continue to be charged for each day of continued violation.  Repeated violation shall constitute a separate violation.

13)  Any person who, through an act of commission or omission, aids or abets in the violation shall be considered to have committed a violation for the purposes of the civil penalty.

14)  Penalty money will go to a fund dedicated to enforcement and/or enhancement of the stormwater management program.


Words Mean Things

The main focus toward which “stormwater management” is directed is “impervious surfaces.”  These include roof tops, walkways, patios, driveways, parking lots or storage areas, concrete or asphalt paving, gravel roads or parking areas, packed earthen materials, and oiled, macadam or other surfaces.”

“Land clearing” means destruction or removal of vegetation from a site by physical, mechanical, chemical or other means.  Mowing, landscape maintenance or pruning can only be done with “accepted horticultural and arboricultural practices, which does not impair the health or survival of the trees and associated vegetation.”

“Land disturbing activities” means any activity that results in a movement of earth or a change in the existing soil cover (both vegetative and nonvegetative) and/or the existing soil topography.  Activities include, but are not limited to, construction, clearing, grading, filling, excavation, and compaction that is associated with stabilization of structures and road construction.

“Pollutant” means any substance which, when added to water, would contaminate or alter the chemical, physical, or biological property of any waters of the drainage system of the State.  This includes change in temperature, taste, color, odors or anything that will or is likely to create a nuisance, among others.

“Stormwater” means that portion of precipitation that does not naturally percolate into the ground or evaporate, but flows via overland flow, interflow, pipes or others features of a stormwater drainage system into a defined surface waterbody or a constructed infiltration facility.

“Watershed” means a geographic region within which water drains into a particular river, stream or body of water as identified and numbered by the State of Washington Water Resource Inventory Areas (WRIAs) as defined in Chapter 173-500 WAC.


The “Minimum Requirements”

Minimum requirements for new development and “redevelopment” includes the creation or addition of 2,000 square feet or greater, of new impervious surface area; or development that includes land disturbing activity of 7,000 square feet or greater.  Redevelopment also falls under minimum requirements if it adds 5,000 square feet or more of new, replaced, or new plus replaced impervious surfaces; or converts ¾ acres or more of native vegetation to lawn or landscaped areas; or that converts 2.5 acres or more of native vegetation to pasture.

For road related projects, minimum requirements shall apply if new impervious surfaces (including pavement, shoulders, curbs and sidewalks)  total 5,000 square feet or more, and total 50% or more of the assessed value of the existing site improvements.

The “minimum requirements” include: 1) preparation of stormwater site plans; 2) construction stormwater pollution prevention; 3) source control of pollution; 4) preservation of natural drainage systems and outfalls; 5) on-site stormwater management; 6) runoff treatment; 7) flow control; 8) wetlands protection; 9) basin/watershed planning and 10) operation and maintenance.  The details of the minimum requirements will be very time-consuming and costly.  Fees can be charged for the preliminary review, construction plan review, inspection, and final plan review done upon completion of all civil work and approval of the final plat map.  Consultant fees may also be added, at the option of the county.

The model plan is contained in a 1,033-page manual written by the DOE.  (See Stormwater Management Plan carries far more restrictions on land than meets the eye)

The plan has been placed as a “priority” by county commissioners, according to Clallam County Senior Planner Steve Gray.  He plans to present a first draft by August 30.  

The DOE's model stormwater management plan can be seen in its entirety here.

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