Hearing draws ideas on permit rules

Published 1:36 am Thursday, September 20, 2007

By Staff
Changes could happen in 2008
By NIKIE MAYO, News Editor
Proposed changes to the state’s stormwater-permit rules drew a passionate crowd to a public hearing in Washington Tuesday night, as supporters of new regulations called them necessary protectors and opponents called them ignorant of “people quality.”
The N.C. Division of Water Quality is considering policy edits that would lower the thresholds for when stormwater permits are needed and when stormwater controls are required. DWQ leaders say the changes will help address the state’s top water-quality problem, which is pollution associated with stormwater runoff
Under current regulations, a stormwater permit is needed for coastal development that disturbs an acre or more. The draft rules would require a permit for development that disturbs 10,000 square feet, or a quarter-acre.
Beaufort County commissioners say the proposal is too stringent and would affect every property owner here. Five commissioners spoke at the hearing, which was held at Beaufort County Community College.
Deatherage, when he spoke against the proposals during a commissioners’ meeting this month, said: “Rules like this make some people feel good about themselves, but you will not find a more hypocritical person than an environmental zealot.”
One proponent of the new rules seized that remark when he spoke Tuesday night.
Heather Jacobs, the riverkeeper for the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, said her organization supports the changes, and would be happy to see even stricter rules. She characterized current stormwater regulations as “failing the river for 20 years.”
Jacobs said she believes it’s “highly likely” that the Pamlico River will soon be classified by the state as an impaired river, which means it can’t support functions it should. Pantego Creek is already classified as impaired, she said.
The commission also proposes to reduce the amount of acceptable “impervious cover” on a lot. That figure is derived by comparing the area for houses, roads and impervious surfaces to the total land available. The proposed rules would allow 12 percent of impervious cover on any lot within a half-mile of shellfish-supporting waters. Once the cover reaches 12 percent, that would be a “trigger” to put in place stormwater controls, according to the plan. That percentage is roughly half the amount of cover the current regulations allow.
County leaders called for uniform statewide rules, rather than some aimed at 20 coastal counties. They also called for additional studies.
County Manager Paul Spruill said his commissioners feel the new proposals equate to “using a broad brush to fix a problem that is not targeted enough.”
Written comments on the proposals will be accepted until Oct. 15. The Environmental Management Commission will consider the comments in January 2008, and that group’s recommendations will likely be considered during the General Assembly’s short session.
If the proposed rule changes are passed, all coastal counties would fall under the stormwater requirements already in place for Onslow, Brunswick and New Hanover counties. The new regulations would take effect around August 2008.