A needed step
Beaufort County Manager Paul Spruill called the county’s decision to hire a lobbyist to fight changes to stormwater runoff rules “an unprecedented step” in an effort to oppose rule changes that coastal counties question the need for in the first place.
There’s no doubt Beaufort County has taken the lead in fighting the rule changes. The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners deserve commendation for taking that lead.
On Thursday, the commissioners approved awarding a contract not to exceed $60,000 to McClees Consulting to serve as a lobbyist in the county’s fight against the rule changes. Taking on the state, including the General Assembly, is no small feat for a rural, relatively undeveloped coastal county.
Beaufort County is prepared to spend $30,000 for the lobbyist’s services. The county is counting on the remaining $30,000 being shared proportionately by other coastal counties, said Spruill, who indicated he’s confident several other counties will help pay for the lobbyist.
Spruill characterized the commissioners’ decision to hire a lobbyist as “a big step for local governing body.” That’s true, but it’s a step that needed to be taken.
The rule changes would affect only the coastal counties.
Changes to the stormwater rules are the result of a 2005 study by the N.C. Division of Water Quality. That study determined the stormwater regulations in place then were not protecting water quality in the state’s coastal areas. The new rules tighten triggers that require stormwater permits and mitigation measures for new and old development, which officials in rural coastal counties said could “stymie development” in their counties.
Officials from the coastal counties want the General Assembly to re-examine the science used to develop that study and make sure that environmental benefits of the new rules would offset the potential cost to poor counties’ slowed economic development.
Coastal counties have made some good points during their discussions about the new stormwater regulations. There’s no doubt that protecting water quality in the coastal region is a good thing, and coastal counties are willing to do their part to protect the quality of the state’s waterways. 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, coastal counties have pointed out, by the time waterways such as 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.
Beaufort County isn’t alone in its fight. Carteret County, according to Spruill, has obtained the services of a “hired-gun law firm” to help it fight the rule changes. He’s confident other coastal counties — especially Washington, Hyde, Bertie, Chowan and Perquimans counties — will formally join Beaufort County in its fight against the rule changes.
Some things are worth fighting for, and this is one of them.