This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website.
WEST CHESTER — The borough is attempting to improve the quality of the streams in the area in an effort to be in line with state and federal mandates.
As a result, borough council unanimously adopted the Stream Protection Fee ordinance Monday night to help fund stormwater projects. The ordinance will take effect 31 days after the recent vote.
Municipal separate storm sewers (MS4s) are any kind of conveyance — streets, ditches, pipes and more — used to collect and convey stormwater which, in West Chester’s case, the system was built over 100 years ago to direct the water away from buildings and structures.
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Once the water is collected in the MS4s, it is discharged into the nearest stream or streams, in this case being Goose Creek, Taylor Run, Blackhorse Run and Plum Run.
Since the MS4s cannot control the quantity or quality of the stormwater, pollutants from the borough can be dumped into the waterways and cause flooding, stream bank erosion and impact the health, safety and welfare of residents in the borough and the other areas downstream.
Just over a year ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the Clean Water Rule, which clearly defined the types of waters covered by federal regulations, such as small streams that are the foundation for local drinking supplies.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) requires MS4s to apply for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit coverage.
In order to help reduce the amount of pollutants in the stormwater, West Chester sweeps over 50 miles of streets on a regular basis and owns and maintains a storm sewer system with approximately 23 miles of pipelines.
The state DEP has determined that many of the streams in the area are impaired, meaning the water is too polluted or degraded to meet water quality standards.
To help bring the water quality of the streams up to regulatory standards, the borough is devising ways of addressing the issue through a rigorous stormwater program to repair and rehabilitate projects and make community improvements, including urban forestry, green infrastructures and more.
In order to make these changes, however, the borough needs to establish a long-term funding mechanism through the Stream Protection Fee Program (SPF).
The SPF will charge a fee to all property owners, including tax-exempt properties, based on the property’s contribution to stormwater runoff and is related directly to the amount of impervious area — sidewalks, compacted soil, gravel, brick surfaces and more — located there.
“The fee fixed and established by this ordinance shall be effective as to all developed properties that use, are served by or benefitted by the Stormwater Management System existing,” the ordinance states. “The first billing pursuant to this ordinance shall be on or about Oct. 1, 2016, and shall cover the fourth quarter of 2016.”
Six fee tiers were made for properties to fall into, based on the amount of impervious areas on the parcel of land, so the more ground where water cannot soak through, the higher the fee per month.
Typical residential owners will pay only about $12 per month, or an additional taxes of $20, whereas a large, tax-exempt property would see a fee of about $346 per month.
The fee will go directly to the stormwater program, such as repairing and replacing some of the old pipelines in the borough that are primarily terracotta and brick.
“This ordinance came about as a mechanism to raise appropriate funds to even just comply with the NPDES permit requirements,” said Kristin Camp, borough solicitor.
Fees can be reduced on properties by managing the stormwater and reducing impervious area and taking advantage of the stormwater credit and rebate program. Property owners can also file an appeal if they disagree with the tier. More information on both can be found on the borough website.
At future meetings, borough council can adopt the appeals manual and credit policy manual for the program.
“I met with a number of organizations since we last met to review the proposed ordinance,” said borough Manager Michael Cotter. “Basically, I met with everyone who wanted to meet with us about this and received some good feedback. Most of these organizations understand why this is moving forward. I think the universal word I would assign is ‘resignation,’ but people certainly understand why council is moving this forward.”
Other municipalities in Pennsylvania are facing similar issues with stormwater discharge.