Officials lobby General Assembly to stop stormwater rules

Published 10:48 pm Wednesday, May 14, 2008

By Staff
Officials from east Carolinabring opposition to Raleigh
Staff Writer
RALEIGH – The clock is ticking.
State legislators are not responsible for the proposal of new stormwater regulations for eastern North Carolina, but if they do not act within the first 30 days of the short session of the Legislature that began Tuesday, those rules will go into effect.
A delegation of officials and residents from Beaufort, Washington and other eastern counties trekked to Raleigh for the opening day of the Legislature in hopes they could get their representatives to act.
Joe McClees, a lobbyist from Oriental hired by 12 rural coastal counties to fight the new rules, led the charge.
The proposed rule changes in question tighten triggers that require stormwater permits and mitigation measures for new and old developments. Managers of 12 coastal counties contend the new rules would have adverse economic impacts by hindering 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.
McClees and his clients traveled to Raleigh to convince legislators that the science behind the proposed rule changes is flawed and that new provisions for stormwater mitigation could be cost-prohibitive to development. The group is calling for a delay in the implementation of the proposed rules until a more-detailed study can be completed, a study that analyzes the effectiveness of the current rules.
McClees assured the delegation that a bill that would stop the implementation of the proposed rules would be introduced by week’s end. To accomplish that goal, and to rally support for the bill, which McClees said has been written but not introduced, the group split into three subgroups and began visiting members of the House and Senate, delivering their message to legislators.
State Sen. Jean Preston, R-Carteret, said she is “willing to do whatever it takes” to ensure the effects these rules would have on eastern counties’ economies is understood. Carteret County is currently governed by Phase II stormwater rules, which are more stringent that those governing other coastal counties but less strict than the proposed changes. It also has one of the largest amounts of shellfish waters among coastal counties.
The group was not received warmly only by representatives of eastern counties. Rep. Edgar Starnes, a Republican from Caldwell County, told the group he is unfamiliar with the proposed rule changes but understands the property-rights issue at stake.
Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Republican representing Randolph and Montgomery counties, told McClees he sympathized with the group’s concerns.
Washington County Manager David Peoples likened the passage of the proposed regulations by the N.C. Environmental Management Commission to the swift passage of mental-health reform legislation that has cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars. He was optimistic about the influence his and his colleagues’ trip to the capital would have on stopping the proposed rule changes.
McClees, however, said the trip is “just the beginning.”