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Stormwater bills garner

By Staff
support in N.C. Legislature
Officials pleased
concerns will
be heard
Staff Writer
The battle for coastal North Carolina is under way, or so says Joe McClees, a lobbyist hired by 12 coastal counties to oppose a set of proposed changes to the state’s stormwater rules.
The die was cast Tuesday when nearly half the members of the state Senate cosigned a bill disapproving of the proposed rules. Those rules would have gone into effect 30 days after the General Assembly went into session May 13. The introduction of the Senate bill and its House counterpart introduced last week prevented that, according to McClees.
McClees was hired by 12 inland coastal counties, including Beaufort and Washington counties, to lobby on their behalf during the General Assembly’s short session. Beaufort County Manager Paul Spruill said Wednesday he is pleased to see the amount of support the Senate bill garnered.
Spruill said the effect to the coastal counties would be far more restrictive than what the General Assembly approved during its 2006 session — rules that currently govern urban counties in the state. Those rules are less restrictive than the proposed rules looming over coastal counties and therefore would cause unequal restriction being placed on counties under the umbrella of the Coastal Area Management Act, the 12-county group contends.
The Environmental Management Commission approved the proposed rule changes in January. McClees contends that decision was made without gauging the effectiveness of the rules currently in place.
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.
The rules are based on a 2005 study by the N.C. Division of Water Quality that found the current restrictions on stormwater mitigation were not effective in preventing the closure of shellfish waters caused by pollution from runoff. McClees and representatives of the 12 inland-coastal counties feel the findings of that study are inaccurate. They also contend that the cost of the new rules to developers and property owners in the 12 counties has not been adequately addressed.
The support the bills have enjoyed in the Legislature means the rest of the state is in agreement, or at least sympathizes with the coastal counties, according to McClees.