Hearing to detail runoff fee plan

Property owners may foot bill to reduce sediment in streams

A public hearing in Greencastle next month might give area property owners a sense of the annual cost they potentially face to reduce sediment in streams.

Greencastle recently posted the amounts of stormwater fees for each property owner there, and while most are between $100 and $200 a year, there are some — apparently for business properties — much larger, including one of $33,000, one of $15,000 and two of $14,000.

Federal and state governments are pushing local leaders to reduce the amount of sediment stormwater carries into area streams.

Eleven Blair County municipalities are charged with reducing stormwater pollutants by 10 percent to comply with tightening federal and state regulations. Ten of those municipalities have formed the Intergovernmental Stormwater Committee, a council of governments, to develop shared projects to meet the new standards.

An issue still to be decided is how each municipality will pay its share.

Greencastle is assessing a fee on each property, and some owners are upset by the amounts. Those fees will be the subject of a state Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee hearing on Sept. 11 in Greencastle.

A representative from state Sen. Judy Ward suggested the ISC participate in the hearing, which she requested because of the complaints from Greencastle property owners — both businesses and residents — as well as complaints from municipal officials about the cost of complying with the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System, or MS4, requirements, Ward staffer Michele Ivory said.

The hope is that the committee can offer clarification on those requirements and afterward do something “to make (them) a little easier to deal with” — maybe with new legislation or a funding program, Ivory said.

Ward would like the state Department of Environmental Protection to send a representative, Ivory said.

Lucas Martsolf, manager of Antis Township and a member of the ISC, plans to participate.

Martsolf has spoken of the need for municipal governments to focus on the MS4 issue, which he and others call a “new utility.”

“I just foresee it being a continued costly expense,” he said.

It’s one that higher-level governments have left “to local governments to explain” — and pay for — and “it didn’t arise from a local perspective,” he said.

Greencastle’s Stormwater Pollutant Impact Fee amounts to $5.36 per 100 square feet of impervious area for each developed property — although it is charged only on 83 percent of each property’s impervious area, as a hedge against potential erroneous calculations, according to an engineering report posted on the Greencastle website.

Bills are quarterly.

The fee is designed to cover the projected $650,000 annual cost over the next 10 years — two MS4 permit periods — of projects designed to meet the borough’s sediment-reduction goals and to maintain and enhance its regular storm sewer system, according to the engineering report.

The report acknowledges the difficulty of accurate cost predictions beyond a couple of years, but argues that the predictions need to be made to avoid having to adjust the fee schedule before a decent interval has elapsed.

The fee will need to fund two proposed stream restoration projects and debt service payments for a stormwater infrastructure project designed to reduce flooding in two neighborhoods, according to the report. It will also pay for personnel costs, some of which are percentage allocations for administrative time spent on stormwater issues.

“The (MS4) program is a political hot button causing alarm from some who lack the desire to (be subject to) another government imposed fee,” the report states.

Greencastle’s approach is “well-thought-out,” said ISC member Ed Silvetti, a Blair Township supervisor.

Different municipalities are approaching the matter differently, Ivory said.

“Everybody is trying to look for help,” Martsolf said at the ISC meeting.

It’s important to get municipal MS4 costs on the record, said Tim Brown, Logan Township manager and ISC chairman.