Legislators eye compromise on stormwater bill

Published 2:40 am Thursday, June 5, 2008

By Staff
Environmentalists carry message to capital
Staff Writer
RALEIGH — N.C. Senate leader Marc Basnight wants to establish stormwater runoff rules that are “workable” and “sensible” that are not cost prohibitive for coastal property owners to build on their lots.
That was the message Basnight, a Dare County Democrat, delivered to a group of Beaufort County environmentalists Wednesday. Basnight represents the first district, which includes Beaufort and Washington counties. His entire district would be affected by proposed changes to the coastal stormwater rules that are before the General Assembly.
The environmentalist group carried two messages to lawmakers Wednesday, which marked the eighth-annual Clean Water Lobby Day, organized by the N.C. Watershed Alliance. Those messages were: The coastal stormwater rules in place are not effective at combatting pollution associated with increased coastal development and that a proposal to tighten stormwater runoff restrictions on new development should be approved by the Legislature.
Those rule changes would have gone into effect thirty days after the General Assembly went into session May 13. The introduction of a Senate bill disapproving of the new rules introduced last week and its House counterpart introduced the week prior prevented that. If versions of those bills are not passed by both houses during the current session, they will automatically go into effect.
Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Heather Jacobs wants that to happen, but said she and the Pamlico-Tar River foundation are open to discussion on what provisions are eventually implemented.
Jacobs led the group from Beaufort County, which was joined at least 150 others in Raleigh Wednesday to lobby members of the General Assembly for the protection of clean water. Another 100 members of the N.C. Coastal Federation joined the group later in the day. Ones of the groups main purposes in Raleigh was to tell lawmakers the two bills disapproving the new rules should be voted down.
Broad Creek residents Doug and Judith Meyer made the trip to Raleigh “make sure sustainable growth is also good for the environment.” Meyer grew up near the Cuyahoga River in Ohio. Dan Meyer, also a member of PTRF’s Board of Directors, witnessed that river become so polluted that at one point its waters actually caught on fire, he said.
Basnight echoed what the group heard from many of the lawmakers it contacted — that a compromise would hopefully be reached between environmental groups and the coastal counties. Sen. A. B. Swindell, D-11th, co-signed the Senate bill disapproving the rule changes. Singing the bill was an act aimed at bringing both sides to the table to work out a compromise, Swindell, a native of Swan Quarter, said.
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. A coalition of 12 inland coastal counties, including Beaufort and Washington counties, claim that science is flawed and that the implementation could stymie development along the coast.
Jacobs said the science behind the rules is extensive and accurate. When asked if opponents to the rules would back further studies showing a need for the rules, she said “they’ll never get behind it.”