Stormwater rules are hard to stomach

Published 5:36 am Wednesday, October 10, 2007

By Staff
The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners often can’t agree, but it is united on one thing.
Proposed new stormwater regulations go way too far and will punish coastal counties while leaving those upstream from us untouched, commissioners said Monday night. In that vein, they voted unanimously to oppose the rules before Monday’s deadline for comment.
The N.C. Division of Water Quality has proposed changes that would lower the thresholds for when stormwater permits are needed and when stormwater controls are required. DWQ leaders say the changes will protect sensitive coastal waters. 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 next August.
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. The draft rules also seek to reduce the amount of acceptable “impervious cover” on a lot. That figure is computed by comparing the area for houses, roads and impervious surfaces to the total land available. The proposed rules would allow only 12 percent of impervious cover on any lot within a half-mile of protected waters, roughly half the amount of cover the current regulations allow.
As a result, some property owners who might have thought they could build a 2,000-square-foot house on their lot may find that the most they could build is a 1,200-square-foot home. That robs them of value, points out Commissioner Stan Deatherage. Some commissioners say large developments like Cypress Landing couldn’t be built if the new rules were in effect and there is no grandfather clause.
Commissioner Hood Richardson said property owners who did want to build would find themselves having to hire professionals in order to apply for a permit. Richardson makes his living as an engineer and surveyor.
If anybody understands the need to protect our water, it’s the people of eastern North Carolina. The water is a source of recreation for boaters, and it attracts new residents who simply like the gaze out over the expanse of the Pamlico River. Folks on the Inner Banks make a living off the water, and they want to see it protected.
But commissioners can’t stomach the way the new rules are written.
During a hearing Monday night, Commissioner Al Klemm called the rules “intrusive.”
He was also angered that many members of the public in the area still didn’t know about the change, despite the fact that its been reported in the Washington Daily News.
Spruill called it a “monster problem.”
If the environmental agency gets at least 15 letters in opposition to the rules, it can’t — by law — adopt the rules without going before the General Assembly. Since lawmakers are elected, not appointed, they may be more likely to be understanding of the plight coastal counties face, the commissioners agreed.