Managers prepare for battle

Published 7:22 pm Friday, April 25, 2008

By Staff
Proposed changes
to stormwater rules
targeted by counties
Staff Writer
EDENTON — Managers of 12 coastal counties met Thursday to discuss their plan of attack on proposed stormwater regulation changes the General Assembly will consider during its short session that begins May 13.
Joe McClees, a lobbyist from Oriental, is the man the 12 counties have hired to lead them into “battle.” He chose Edenton as a meeting place because of the town’s revolutionary record.
Barker led 50 other women in what became known as the Edenton Tea Party. The women, unhappy with England’s tax on tea, dumped crates of it into the harbor much like a group of colonists dressed as Indians would later do in Boston. McClees said he had been hired to “redig the wells of Penelope Barker in North Carolina.”
McClees will lobby on behalf of the 12 counties during the short session for a fee of $60,000. Beaufort County has agreed to shoulder $30,000 of that price tag. The other 11 counties will contribute to the sum proportionately based on population. Those counties are Perquimans, Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck, Gates, Washington, Chowan, Hyde, Tyrrell, Bertie and Hertford.
The rule changes in question tighten triggers that require stormwater permits and mitigation measures for new and old development. Managers of the inland coastal counties contend the new rules would have adverse economic impacts by stymying development on an already-struggling region. Though the rules are more restrictive for areas within a half-mile of shellfish waters, they tighten restrictions to a lesser degree in all areas of counties under the Coastal Area Management Act.
The changes will automatically go into effect Aug. 1 if a bill to either alter or stop them is not introduced by a member of the Legislature within the first 30 days of the short session. McClees has been hired to make sure that bill gets introduced. To accomplish that goal, McClees said, he plans to flood the statehouse with “several hundred” residents and officials from 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 rule changes, approved by the N.C. Environmental Management Commission in January, are designed to protect shellfish habitats from permanent closure to public and commercial use because of pollution. according to officials with the N.C Division of Water Quality.
The group of county managers contend the science behind the rule changes is flawed and that new provisions for stormwater mitigation could be cost-prohibitive to development. Beaufort County Manager Paul Spruill said that “between 1988 and 2006, the number of permanently closed shellfish waters in Beaufort County” has decreased.
The group is calling for a delay in the implementation of the new rules until a more detailed study can be completed, a study that analyzes the effectiveness of the current rules.
Spruill, who has been tapped as the group’s spokesman, also said the inland coastal counties, of which only Beaufort and Hyde counties have significant amounts of shellfish waters, if any, should not be held to the same standards as other counties.
On Monday, Currituck County’s Board of Commissioners approved joining the group and chipping in to pay for McClees’ services. Dan Scanlon, that county’s manager, said although the county has no shellfish waters, the economic impacts of the rule changes are “just as viable as counties that do.”