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Strict stormwater requirements approved by state commission

By Staff
Move to Legislature for approval
By DAN PARSONS
Staff Writer
The Environmental Management Commission has approved coastal stormwater permit rules that could affect nearly every future residential and commercial development in eastern North Carolina, local officials say.
The new rules, proposed by the N.C. Division of Water Quality to enhance protection for shellfish habitat, will tighten permitting regulations for developments in all 20 of the state’s coastal counties.
One revision — that all development be two feet above seasonal high-water tables — could render a large part of the state’s 20 coastal counties undevelopable, according to Beaufort County Commissioner Hood Richardson, also a land surveyor and engineer.
Under the revised rules, developments within a half-mile of shellfish waters that build on more than 12 percent of a lot will have to install stormwater control measures. A 50-foot vegetated buffer from protected waters for new development and a 30-foot buffer for redevelopment will also be required under the new rules.
It is with residential and commercial development outside of that half-mile zone that Beaufort County officials are primarily concerned about because not much of the water around Beaufort County is considered oyster habitat, County Manager Paul Spruill said Friday. Development in those areas of the county more than a half-mile from protected waters will bear the brunt of the revised regulations, he said.
Development farther than a half-mile from shellfish habitats that disturbs more than 10,000 square feet of land and involves more than 24 percent of the lot size will be required to implement one of several stormwater control and treatment options, according to the new rules. New commercial developments that disturb more then 10,000 square feet, or about a quarter acre will also have to implement the management measures under the revised rules.
Richardson said that when design and specialty plants are taken into account, a rain garden could add $10,000 to the cost of constructing a new home.
Development exceeding those thresholds would be required to install either a rain cistern to collect roof runoff, a rain garden to collect and filter roof runoff or other management practice that meets specific DWQ requirements for the treatment of stormwater runoff. Spruill said the measures were unduly harsh on the state’s 20 coastal counties and did not effectively regulate pollution originating in the other 80.
The DWQ conducted a study in 2005 that found shellfish habitats were negatively affected under the present stormwater-permitting rules. Beaufort County commissioners unanimously resolved to oppose the stricter regulations in September, prior to a public hearing at the county’s community college on the new rules.
Spruill said he hoped legislators in Raleigh would consider if the revised stormwater rules were the best answer to the findings of the 2005 study, which showed increased fecal coliform bacteria from runoff caused shellfish-water closings. Richardson said that the state was “treating stormwater like sewage.”
The N.C. Home Builder’s Association has filed objections with DWQ that will be sent to the General Assembly with the revised rules. Once the rules hit the Legislature, only the passage of a bill introduced to alter the rules will prevent their passing by default.