Counties to let state handle stormwater program

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County plans to let the state handle stormwater management with new construction — at least for now.

County officials advised members of the Board of Supervisors on Thursday that they recommend not taking on the added responsibility of monitoring stormwater systems installed at development projects. But Brandon Davis, director of the office of community development, noted that the county may decide to take on the responsibility if it appears the Department of Environmental Quality does not give the same level of service that developers receive at the local level.

County Planner Patrick Felling told the board that state legislators during their recent session approved legislation that gave certain municipalities the option to either put in place their own program or to let the DEQ monitor stormwater management as it does currently.

County leaders and officials worked for a few years to set up a local program with the aid of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission.

“The county got so far as you’ve actually seen a draft ordinance and we were ready to pull that trigger,” Felling said. “But now we have a choice.”

The legislation lets the county opt in to the program now, later or not at all, Felling explained. The emergency legislation took effect immediately. The county officials said staff members recommend the county wait until the state further solidifies its program and determines exactly what local communities should do if they take on the responsibility.

Reasons for the county to control its program locally include customer service to the development community, Felling said. The county would provide a unified permitting process. The county already handles permits for erosion and sediment control, Felling noted. Developers would come to the same place for stormwater permits obtained at the end of a project.

“The timeliness: There was a question about whether DEQ will be timely enough if they were running the program,” Felling said. “If the county was running the program, we know that we could turn it around quickly. We wouldn’t be holding up projects.”

The county also could better address local issues that may arise with a project, Felling said.

“So we think that having a program is a good idea but there a number of outstanding problems with the way the state is preparing to do this,” Felling said. “There’s large elements of the new program that are not in place yet.”

The planner said the DEQ has not set up a database needed to manage the system, the mechanism for developers to pay the state and county, nor has the agency published a stormwater handbook.

Board Vice Chairman Conrad Helsley reacted to Felling’s update.

“So it sounds to me like the state isn’t even ready to run this program at all,” Helsley said.

Davis said the county was well poised to take on the program before the General Assembly took its action. But Davis noted he didn’t want to take on the program without more clarity.

“My issue now is they’ve changed the rules so late in the game that I don’t know how you’re going to hold me accountable,” Davis said.

Representatives of the development community recently said they would prefer to work with the county than the state, Davis recalled.

The director added that he didn’t want ask a developer to take a certain step without firm footing on what the DEQ would require.

“I’d rather have DEQ figure out how they want it done and then we figure out a way to do it more efficiently and provide that level of customer service,” Davis said.

The Water Resources Advisory Board, which also worked on the issue for years, also recommended the county let the state continue to handle stormwater management but to leave the option open for taking on the responsibility in the future.

Warren County supervisors took action in April to let the state continue to handle its stormwater management programs. The board withdrew its proposed combined Erosion and Sediment Control and Stormwater Ordinance and to maintain the current regulations.
The board’s action lets the county avoid taking on a responsibility government officials in the region say would be costly and onerous.

The Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission, the Center for Watershed Protection and the Environmental Finance Center assisted area governments in creating and preparing the regulations and programs. County Building Official David Beahm has said Warren County would continue to work with those agencies to develop training and outreach curriculum to assist local developers and contractors in understanding and abiding by the final regulations.

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