Senate OKs stormwater compromise

Published 9:14 am Thursday, July 10, 2008

By Staff
Spruill: Bill’s latest version represents ‘workable rules’
Staff Writer
Beaufort County and 11 of its allies are “half-way home” to getting approval of new stormwater regulations officials and residents of those counties can live with, according to the lobbyist working for the counties.
A compromise bill penned last week by environmental groups and county officials unanimously passed the state Senate on Wednesday afternoon, according to Joe McClees, the lobbyist advocating for the 12-county coalition. The vote was 48-0, according to McClees.
The 12-county coalition, officially formed in April with the hiring of McClees, includes Beaufort, Hyde and Washington counties. Officials from those and their allied counties opposed the new rules — drawn up by N.C. Division of Water Quality staff and approved by the Environmental Management Commission in January — for fear following them could be cost-prohibitive to development.
Environmental groups and DWQ maintain the rules need to be strengthened to protect public waters from pollution resulting from coastal development. Stormwater runoff has been blamed for the permanent closure of shellfish waters in all areas of the North Carolina coast, according to a 2005 study that was used to help draft the original proposed rule changes.
The rule changes in question tighten triggers that require stormwater permits and mitigation measures for new and old developments. The 12 inland coastal counties, many of which have no shellfish waters, strongly opposed the passage of the rules as approved by the EMC in January. Beaufort County agreed to shoulder half of McClees’ $60,000 price tag, the other half of which was taken on proportionately by the other 11 counties.
Environmental groups and county officials hammered out the draft bill during a stakeholders process that began when the General Assembly convened in May. Beaufort County Manager Paul Spruill, who was tapped to lead the 12-county coalition, called the final compromise a set of “workable rules.” On Monday night, 10 of the 12 counties’ boards of commissioners passed resolutions in support of the compromise bill.
The bill now goes before the state House’s environmental committee, then to the full House for consideration. If it is approved by the House, it will be forwarded to Gov. Mike Easley for his signature.
Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Heather Jacobs, who has been involved in the stakeholder process, said the compromise bill includes basic provisions the environmental community set out to establish. However, she said, some persistent concerns held by environmentalist had been conceded to the 12 counties.
Spruill was hopeful the bill would survive the House committee intact and be passed by the lower house sometime next week.