Counties ask state to keep stormwater option in place

The state might make Shenandoah and Warren counties take over costly stormwater management programs after all.

A proposal under consideration by the Department of Environmental Quality’s Stormwater Stakeholder Advisory Group would eliminate the local option to opt out of the expanded Stormwater Maintenance Program. “Opting out” actually meant localities let the state handle the program for local construction.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors will be asked on Tuesday to adopt a resolution of support for the continuance of the locality’s ability to opt out of the state’s stormwater program.

The proposed resolution states that repealing the option would nullify the action taken last year by the General Assembly and Gov. Terry McAuliffe that allows localities to let the DEQ handle the program.

To repeal the option “would require that each and every locality in the Commonwealth administer a separate version of the Virginia Stormwater Management Program, thus resulting in inconsistency, inefficiency and a cumulative burden that will increase both in size and cost each year, constituting nothing short of a significant expense and burdensome unfunded or underfunded mandate…” the proposed resolution states.

Shenandoah and Warren and more than 50 other localities chose last year to opt out, citing costs and questions about what exactly the state wanted localities to do.

Shenandoah County officials scheduled a conference call with the DEQ for next week to gain a better understanding of the proposed changes, Brandon Davis, director of community development, states in an email Friday.

“Once we are satisfied that we have all the details needed to understand the potential impacts to our community, we may present a similar resolution to our Board at its meeting later this month,” Davis states. “We are continually concerned about the proliferation of unfunded and underfunded mandates, but also recognize the importance of implementing programs that protect our natural resources in a sensible manner.”

Several county administrators and attorneys as well as John D. “Jack” Miller, former president of the Virginia Association of Counties, drafted the proposed resolution.

Middlesex County’s County Administrator Matt Walker explains in a Sept. 29 email to dozens of colleagues around the state that a movement is afoot to eliminate the option through the work of the stakeholders group.

“The SAG is currently meeting in Richmond and upon conclusion they will make recommendations to the General Assembly regarding revisions to the state’s stormwater law that will most likely be adopted,” Walker states.

The proposed resolution states that the stakeholders group lacks sufficient representation by the localities that chose to opt out and those governed by the Chesapeake Bay Act.

Warren County Building Official David Beahm said Friday by email that he suspects the impetus behind removing the option comes down to enforcement of the regulations. The state lacks the manpower to enforce these rules. Only through local opposition to the state’s push for the new regulations did the legislature include the opt-out option, Beahm added.

Middlesex County’s leaders also chose to opt out because of the cost, liability and uncertainty surrounding the new regulations, the email states.

“We believe that regulations developed and adopted by the Commonwealth should be paid for by the Commonwealth as opposed to being passed down to the local governments as a burdensome unfunded or underfunded mandate,” Walker states.

The Middlesex County Board of Supervisors is expected to consider adopting the resolution at its meeting on Tuesday. Walker advises officials to forward their adopted resolutions to state legislators, the DEQ and the governor’s office. Copies of locally adopted resolutions will be presented to members of the stakeholders group who support the position.

The state Senate and House of Delegates passed amendments to the Virginia Stormwater Management Program that allows localities to manage their own programs or “opt out,” leaving the responsibility to the DEQ.

At the request of the chairs of the Virginia House and Senate Natural Resources Committees, the DEQ pulled together the group of stakeholders this year to consider ways to streamline and possibly combine the three state laws that apply to land disturbance. These are stormwater management, erosion and sediment control and the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act. The stakeholders group consists of representatives from local governments, the development community, environmental organizations, agriculture and others.

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