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Legislation seeks stormwater program opt-out

By KATE MILLER

VCU Capital News Service

 

RICHMOND — A stormwater management bill that incorporates three other bills and would allow some localities to opt-out of implementing local stormwater runoff management programs passed the House with a 93-1 vote.

House Bill 1173 would require the Department of Environmental Quality to establish a Virginia Stormwater Management Program for a locality that chooses not to implement a local program and does not have a municipal separate storm-sewer system (MS4), which exists in densely-populated urban areas. The VSMP requirement would be deferred for six months for some MS4 localities.

HB 1173 will be voted on in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee this week.

Larry Land, the director of policy development for the Virginia Association of Counties, which represents all 95 counties in Virginia, says VACo supports the legislation.

“It will provide some real relief for a lot of localities,” he said.

Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, introduced Senate Bill 423, a similar bill to HB1173.

Delegate M. Keith Hodges, R-Urbanna, who introduced HB1173, says he hopes for HB1173 and SB423 to be identical soon and to be signed into law as soon as possible because the bills have an emergency clause, meaning they go into effect immediately after being

Currently, localities must establish local stormwater runoff management programs by July 1.

Hodges says meeting the current deadline for establishing the programs is primarily a concern for rural areas because local funds are not equipped to administer local stormwater runoff management programs.

According to Hodges, HB1173 is budget neutral and would free localities from an unfunded mandate and potentially help localities collectively save millions of dollars. He says the legislation is a compromise based on continued negotiation with stakeholders, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other conservation groups.

Chuck Epes, assistant director of media relations for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, says CBF supports HB1173 and SB423. “The legislation ensures Virginia moves forward with reducing polluted runoff in a timely manner,” Epes stated in an email.

Hodges says the bill includes a delay for MS4 localities because MS4 localities are required by the federal government to establish local stormwater management programs, so they cannot opt-out of establishing programs.

Delegate Charles Poindexter, R-Glade Hill, is one of the patrons of HB1173.

Poindexter’s legislative director Alexander Thorup says the rural localities in and around Poindexter’s district are not as equipped as larger areas to address stormwater runoff management.

“Our local governments approached us and were very concerned that they might not have enough time to implement this type of program,” Thorup said. “I can’t say that our localities are happy with the compromise, but at least this offers some sort of relief to them.”

Delegate Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church, is the only delegate who voted against HB1173 on the House floor. Kory says it is important for localities to craft their own detailed stormwater runoff management programs to meet specific local needs.

Kory says localities should work in cooperation with the Virginia Department of Transportation because storm drains are often located in VDOT rights-of-way. She says VDOT does not have the money or manpower to inspect and maintain all of the storm drains located in rights-of-way across Virginia.

“I’ve heard from a surprising number of my constituents whose homes have been flooded when there’s been a heavy downpour,” she said. “The storm drain nearest to their home is blocked, and then the water just flows over the road to the adjacent property.”

House Bill 1173 would adjust the permitting appeals process and allow an agreement instead of a stormwater management plan. The State Water Control Board would adopt regulations for issuing permits for certain purposes.

HB1173 also would establish consolidation of state post-construction requirements into Virginia’s General Permit; not adjust the enforcement extent of the federal Clean Water Act. The bill also would exempt certain regulations of the State Water Control Board.

The bill incorporates House Bill 58, House Bill 649 and House Bill 261.

The various stakeholders have developed a compromise through the legislation, but Thorup says the debate over stormwater runoff management is not over.

“It’s probably going to be an issue that’s going to continue to be tweaked in the next few years,” Thorup said. “With a program this large and having such a significant impact on the entire state, as we move forward and the program begins to be implemented, different things will pop up.”

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