Environmental groups defend new stormwater rules

Published 12:34 am Thursday, January 17, 2008

By Staff
Say new regulations will bring coastal counties in line with others
Staff Writer
Revised stormwater runoff regulations approved Jan. 10 by the N.C. Environmental Management Commission may not be as threatening to coastal development as local officials have claimed, according to a representative for the state’s Division of Water Quality.
The rules are most restrictive to development within a half-mile of shellfish harvesting waters, but there aren’t that many in Beaufort County, according to Tom Reeder, environmental supervisor for the Division of Water Quality Wetlands and Stormwater Branch. Only the waters east of a line drawn between the western shores of South Creek and North Creek, and most of the Pungo River are considered shellfish harvesting waters by the DWQ.
It is with the rule changes for coastal development outside that half-mile zone that Beaufort County officials are most concerned, because the majority of the county falls under that section of the rules.
Required setbacks from streams and other waterways are increased from 30 feet to 50 feet for development in those areas under the new rules. Development that disturbs more than 10,000 square feet of land and builds on 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. Those options include but are not limited to rain cisterns to collect runoff, building with permeable materials or installing rain gardens.
Reeder said the new rules would do little other than bring stormwater regulations in line with those already in effect in the state’s 80 other counties.
One provision requires all structural stormwater controls required for development that exceed the permitting threshold to be two feet above seasonal high-water tables.
Beaufort County Commissioner Hood Richardson said that provision alone was “enough to make 40 percent of the 20 coastal counties undevelopable.” Jim Stevenson, member of the N.C. Coastal Federation and former director of the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, disagreed, going so far as to say the provision is an advantage to developers over the current rules.
The rules were proposed by DWQ after a 2005 study found that bacterial pollutants carried into the state’s public trust waters by stormwater runoff made shellfish in those waters unsafe to eat. Many of those areas have been permanently closed to shellfish harvesting because of pollution in recent years. The rule changes are aimed at increasing the protection of shellfish habitats from the potential damages of stormwater runoff as coastal North Carolina becomes increasingly developed. The N.C. Environmental Management Commission approved the revised rules Jan. 10.
The new rules are designed to prevent future closures of waters to commercial and recreational use, he said.