The battle is joined

Published 10:57 pm Wednesday, May 14, 2008

By Staff
There’s a saying that goes like this: When the General Assembly is in session, nothing is safe.
Many of North Carolina’s coastal counties are hoping that’s not the case during the short session of the Legislature. Those counties are seeking relief from the General Assembly. They want relief from proposed changes to stormwater-runoff regulations, rules they say pose a threat to them.
Twelve coastal counties have taken their fight against the proposed stormwater regulation changes to the General Assembly, which opened its short session Tuesday. The Beaufort County Committee of 100 chartered a bus to transport people who have joined the 12 counties in that fight to the opening day of the short session.
Joe McClees, the consultant hired by the 12 counties to lead their fight, was expected to formally begin his lobbying efforts on behalf of the 12 counties on Tuesday. When he was hired last month, McClees indicated he’s more than ready to lead the counties’ attack against the proposed changes to the stormwater rules.
As McClees said when he was hired, the battle is at hand. It’s a battle coastal counties need to win.
The 12 coastal counties — Beaufort, Perquimans, Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck, Gates, Washington, Chowan, Hyde, Tyrrell, Bertie and Hertford — have taken their cause to the General Assembly. The battle is joined.
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 at that time 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 12 coastal counties are asking the General Assembly to take another look at 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. Those counties fear implementation of the proposed changes would result in adverse effects on development and their economies.
Those are fears that need addressing. Those are fears that are real.
The 12 counties are asking for a delay in the implementation of the new rules until a more detailed study of those new regulations can be completed, a study that analyzes the effectiveness of the current rules. That’s a reasonable request, and one that should be granted by the state.
There’ a fairness issue, too.
As this newspaper has noted before, the Legislature must look at whether the proposed new rules are being applied fairly. As it stands now, the new rules would apply only to coastal counties that are affected by the Coastal Area Management Act.
State regulators contend protection of water quality is a good thing. If so, shouldn’t upstream counties abide by the same regulations as those imposed on coastal counties?
Inland counties contribute their share of stormwater runoff to waterways that make their way to the coast. Although those counties are part of the problem, they are not facing the stricter stormwater rules that coastal counties are facing.
That’s just plain wrong. The coastal counties know it. That’s one reason they are fighting the proposed changes to stormwater regulations.
That sound heard in Raleigh on Tuesday was the opening shot in the 12 counties’ fight for their futures and fair treatment.
We hope the General Assembly heard that sound and will respond in a responsible manner. The 12 counties deserve nothing less.