An equitable cure

Published 8:24 am Sunday, February 24, 2008

By Staff
The 20 coastal counties fighting the state over new regulations pertaining to the control of stormwater runoff have another ally.
During its annual planning session Wednesday, Washington’s City Council expressed its concerns that the stricter stormwater rules will harm some economic development opportunities not only in the city but throughout the coastal counties. Washington officials worry the new stormwater regulations will severely limit residential and commercial growth.
Council members made some good points during their discussion about the new stormwater regulations. There’s no doubt that protecting water quality is a good thing, and the city is willing to do its part to protect the quality of the state’s waterways, they said. But if protecting water quality is such a good thing, why shouldn’t counties, cities and towns upstream abide by the same regulations. After all, council members noted, by the time the Pamlico River and Neuse River reach the coastal areas, plenty of upstream counties, cities and towns have added their stormwater runoff to those waterways. They are contributing to the problem, but they don’t face the strict stormwater regulations imposed on the coastal counties.
That’s not right, council members said.
They’ve got a point.
The council decided it must convince state officials that they should not, as Councilman Archie Jennings put it, “make coastal counties take out what others put in” those waterways. That’s an excellent point of view for coastal counties, cities and towns to persuade state officials to adopt.
Protecting the quality of the Pamlico, Neuse and other waterways should begin at the headwaters of those waterways. Coastal counties, cities and towns should not carry the burden of having the stormwater regulations imposed on them alone when there is as much, if not more, stormwater runoff entering waterways from counties, cities and towns upstream.
Take Raleigh and Wake County, for example. There’s no doubt the amount of stormwater runoff entering the Neuse River from that city and county is much more than the amount of stormwater runoff that enters the Neuse from New Bern and Craven County. Because Wake County and Raleigh are not coastal locations, they don’t have to abide by the stormwater rules imposed on the coastal counties, cities and towns. If they are part of the problem, they should be part of the solution to that problem.
As they’ve said before, officials in the coastal areas realize the important of protecting the quality of their waterways. After all, those waterways are what make those coastal areas attractive to many people. Those waterways provide a living for watermen. Those waterways provide recreational opportunities for fishermen, boaters, swimmers and water-skiers. Those waterways provide development opportunities. They want to protect those waterways. They don’t want to be, and they don’t want the state to make them be, overprotective.
Some officials from the coastal areas question if the revised stormwater regulations are needed.
Others question the science behind the decision to impose the new regulations.
Coastal counties, cities and towns are right to question the imposition of the new rules, especially if those new rules will do more harm to the coastal areas than good. The coastal counties, cities and towns deserve answers to their questions. Those answers must come from state environmental officials and the General Assembly.
The way it is now, the cure — the new stormwater runoff rules — appears to be worse than the ailment when it comes to the coastal areas.
But if the cure is needed, that cure should be equally applied to all counties, cities and towns that produce stormwater runoff that enters waterways that make their way through the coastal areas to the ocean.