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Counties face deadlines for storm runoff regs

By Alex Bridges

Deadlines loom for cities and counties to set strict rules on how developers handle storm water runoff in building projects.

Ahead of these deadlines the Warren County Building Inspections Department plans to take public comments from the public on a first draft of its stormwater management ordinance. The first, 30-day public comment period begins Monday. The department has made the draft of the regulations available through the county's website, in the government center and at Samuel's Public Library.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality requires that all municipalities adopt a local stormwater management program -- to include an ordinance as well as plans to staff and finance the initiative -- by July 1, 2014.

Warren County building official David Beahm noted that much about the impact of such a vast program remains unknown.

"It is a massive undertaking for something that really has never been done previously to what they are expecting," Beahm said Thursday. "We're pretty much working from ground zero."

Virginia has left it up to local governments to set up their own programs. Beahm noted that the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission has worked with Warren County and others in the region to craft the required ordinance and program.

The Center for Watershed Protection, through the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission, prepared the first draft of the ordinance. Beahm said Warren County, as a jurisdiction, now must go through the draft and address how to make it fit with the local regulations already in place.

"I've probably put in in excess of 150 hours working on this and that's through meetings and everything else," Beahm said, adding that Planning Director Taryn Logan worked well over 100 hours on the project.

"That's not to say that we're done with the work because the ordinance is just the first portion of it," Beahm said.

The process requires that the county set up the applications for the permits required of construction firms and developers through the stormwater runoff management program.

Warren County Board of Supervisors plans to hold a required public hearing on the stormwater management ordinance later this year.

Warren County advises the public to submit comments, preferably in writing, either by email to dbeahm@warrencountyva.net, or to the Building Inspections Department, 220 North Commerce Ave. Suite 400, Front Royal, Va. 22630. Contact the department at 540-636-9973 for more information.

Martha Shickle, executive director of the regional commission, explained Thursday that the agency worked with Clarke, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties on their requests to the Soil and Water Conservation Board for more time to craft their management programs. In order to receive the extension, municipalities have to have draft ordinances on file.

"It didn't have to be through the public process by any means but they wanted to have the communities demonstrate that they've started thinking about this," Shickle said.

Communities also had to submit documents that show how they plan to staff and pay for their stormwater management programs, Shickle added.

The board granted the requests and jurisdictions now have until mid December to create a second draft of the ordinance, Shickle said. During this time, DEQ plans to continue to give guidance to the communities on how to draft the ordinances.

So far, the communities in the commission's region have looked at the guidance provided by the DEQ and a model ordinance for stormwater management. Communities are contemplating whether they should combine stormwater management programs with erosion and sediment control already handled at the local levels.

"The benefits of that is, depending on how local staff members are assigned, it could make it a more streamlined process for the development community that go to one place in the local code to know what are the requirements for this kind of development," Shickle said.

Jurisdictions must adopt their ordinances and management programs by April 1. As Shickle noted, jurisdictions must have their state-approved programs up and running as of July 1, 2014. The local agency in charge of the program should begin to take payments and have the staff available at that time.

While the deadlines seem far off, Shickle noted that the process by which local governments approve ordinances requires public hearings and advertisement windows that can all take time. So the deadlines may come faster than expected. Likewise, each jurisdiction must receive approval from the DEQ before adopting the ordinances.

The Department of Conservation and Recreation had overseen stormwater management until DEQ took over the program July 1.

The regional commission received a grant from the DCR last year to aid jurisdictions in determining the local cost to administer stormwater management programs.

"Administering the stormwater management program is going to have an impact on staffing certainly," Shickle said. "We're trying to quantify what that impact will be for each jurisdiction based on projections for development."

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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