“Compliance is not a choice.”
That’s the message sent to about 45 East Lampeter Township residents who attended a special meeting on a proposed stormwater fee Tuesday night.
The statement by township consultant Adrienne Vicari of Herbert, Rowland and Grubic, Inc. wasn’t a threat, but a reckoning that keeping up with toughening stormwater regulations is more practical than fines for noncompliance. Vicari said individual fines could reach as high as six figures — and penalties that could be levied daily could reach five figures.
A 50-minute presentation touched on the history of stormwater management, East Lampeter’s predicament in finding funding to stay in compliance and options available to address the issue.
Measures under consideration for funding the expected $1.4 million annual cost of keeping up with regulations include tasking the East Lampeter Sewer Authority with overseeing stormwater management, as well as enacting a stormwater fee.
For nearly an hour, residents asked about the complexities of the stormwater system; the mapping for “impervious areas” like driveways, roofs and patios on their properties; and what they could do to minimize their impact in exchange for a credit.
Fee versus tax
Vicari spoke of the benefits of a fee as opposed to a tax.
She said the proposed fee would apply broadly across the township, including schools, churches and other nonprofits that are usually tax-exempt.
To compare, a tax would cost the average homeowner $13 a month compared with $5.60 in the form of a stormwater fee, according to estimates.
Several people applauded the township for being proactive in trying to find a solution to the stormwater funding problem. No residents stated outright opposition to the idea of a fee.
Municipalities with runoff into streams must apply for a municipal separate storm-sewer system (MS4) permit or an exception as part of the federal Clean Water Act and Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law.
Since the early 2000s, the state Department of Environmental Protection has required municipalities with storm sewer systems to improve streams and prevent dangerous runoff of chemicals and sediment that eventually find their way into the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Small MS4 municipalities — there are 1,061 of them in the state — are required to create a stormwater management plan to address the standards set by DEP.
Last year, DEP added another requirement for MS4s in the Chesapeake Bay watershed: Submit plans to reduce sediment discharge by 10% over the next five-year permit.
East Lampeter must meet those requirements, as well as work to reduce phosphorus by 5% and nitrogen by 3% by 2023 or face an audit and possible fine.
Supervisors have tentatively budgeted $1.4 million annually through 2023 just for stormwater management.
The township is aiming to approve a fee resolution and credit policy for especially efficient property owners before the end of the year, according to a timeline presented at the meeting.
If approved, implementation of the fee is expected early in the new year.