By Alex Bridges
Legislation moving forward in the Virginia General Assembly will allow area counties to opt out of a mandate on monitoring runoff from building sites.
The House of Delegates on Wednesday passed a bill that allows most counties across the state to let the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality manage stormwater monitoring for development. The House voted 93-1 in favor of the bill sponsored by Del. M. Keith Hodges, R-Urbanna, which includes several other pieces of related legislation.
Hodges said Wednesday this bill would let smaller, rural counties opt out of a requirement seen as a costly endeavor handed down by the state.
"That was the initial goal, was to give the localities the relief and remove the unfunded mandate," Hodges said.
The counties of Frederick, Shenandoah, Warren and others could ask the DEQ to allow them to opt out of the mandate. Local governments faced a July 1 deadline to implement programs designed to monitor runoff from construction. The Warren County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adopted a resolution of support for the bill.
An emergency clause included in the bill allows the legislation to take effect as soon as Gov. Terry McAuliff signs it, Hodges explained. The clause lets counties off the hook for meeting DEQ deadlines and allows the state agency to prepare for the transition, Hodges explained.
He noted that DEQ estimates the agency will need 10 employees to monitor storm water programs, but permits will cover the cost.
The requirement could likely put local governments that don't issue enough storm water management permits "in the red," Hodges warned.
Local governments still must handle the issuing of storm water permits under the Chesapeak Bay Act. Other environmental requirements will remain in place.
The passage of the bill comes months before the requirement kicks in, but also after years of debates about and changes made to the mandate and the shifting of the deadlines for counties to file their proposed programs.
The legislation would shift the responsibility of implementing and enforcing a storm water management program from the local government, as originally planned, back to the DEQ, for many counties, said Larry Land, director of policy development for the Virginia Association of Counties, which supported the legislation.
"It's going to provide a lot of relief for many counties throughout Virginia who are under a mandate to adopt some fairly expensive stormwater management programs by July 1, 2014," Land said.
Counties not seeing as much revenue from building permits and other sources related to development would benefit by the DEQ administering the storm water monitoring programs.
The Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission has assisted counties in its coverage area by working on the draft of the storm water management programs that local governments would need to adopt and implement. Commission Executive Director Martha Shickle said Tuesday that should the legislation pass, each local government would need to decide whether or not to continue to work toward implementing storm water programs as originally planned.
Local officials and elected leaders have, for the past several years, voiced fear that the mandate would require governments to impose new fees or increase existing charges associated with permits needed for construction.
Land noted, "Part of the problem especially for the small, rural counties is that they just don't have the rate of development as you would have in more densely populated, urbanized areas that are undergoing development.
"If you're trying to fund a program with revenues from storm water fees, it means that you might just have to jack up those fees pretty high if you want it to be a self-financing program and you don't subsidize it," Land said.
Counties may still decide to opt in to the program, he added.
The legislation does not apply to nearly 20 jurisdictions that operate municipal storm sewer programs.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org