Bay cleanup costs less than estimated, but still ‘astronomical,’ commissioner says -- Gazette.Net







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Frederick County might be on the hook for $1.5 billion for its share in reducing stormwater pollutants as part of the state’s plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

That number is well above the $200 million the state estimated it would cost, but under the $2.3 billion the county initially projected. The new estimate is based on numbers and scenarios from the Maryland Department of the Environment, said Shannon Moore, the county’s manager of sustainability and environmental resources.

“During the floor fight for HB987 [a bill requiring certain jurisdictions to set up a way to levy stormwater fees], Delegate McIntosh estimated that Frederick County’s WIP costs for stormwater would be $200M,” Moore told commissioners in an email this week. “My understanding is that this number came from MDE. However, using MDE’s actual numbers, the results are significantly higher.”

Commissioners asked Moore for cost estimates for implementing Phase II of the state’s Watershed Implementation Plan, including septic system and stormwater system upgrades. Moore still is working on the costs for the sewer and agriculture portions of the plan. The state plan is part of a larger effort initiated by the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the Bay during the next 13 years, as mandated by the Clean Water Act. The Chesapeake Bay watershed encompasses 64,000 square miles, and cleanup efforts involve six states and Washington, D.C.

But determining costs has been complicated, and MDE disputed Frederick County’s original cost projections. Moore said her initial projections were based on more expensive methods of upgrading stormwater management practices, but that MDE will allow for less costly methods. Stormwater is the runoff from impervious surfaces that deposits into creeks and rivers, and ultimately the Bay.

Moore and staff recalculated the cost to the county using best management practices developed for the county by MDE, cost estimates prepared by MDE analyst Dennis King, and a scenario assessment developed by MDE. The $1.5 billion cost includes all stormwater retrofits within Frederick County, including municipal, state, federal, county-owned and unregulated urban land. The estimated cost to Frederick County government, based on the pollution reduction target for the county’s stormwater permits, is 43 percent, or $644 million. Municipalities have their own permits, but are not required to submit WIP plans. MDE has stated in its Draft Phase II WIP that the permit renewals are expected to have a goal to reduce 20 percent of their untreated urban impervious areas built prior to 2002, and that these permit renewals will take place in December.

The reduction goals will be written into upcoming stormwater permits as conditions of the permits.

“At the end of the day, these are [MDE’s] numbers,” Moore said.

MDE has not yet seen the plan, so cannot comment on the recalculated numbers at this point, said MDE spokesman Samantha Kappalman.

Counties are required to submit an action plan for reducing pollutants to the state by July 2, but some counties are balking. Carroll County planning staff will not submit its plan, according to news reports, because it is “unhappy” with the way MDE determined the costs of implementing the plan. Worcester County’s board also is protesting the state's plan for its county, citing “outrageous costs,” according to news reports.

Although submitting the plan is voluntary, the state can impose its own plan on the counties that do not follow through, according to Kappalman.

“If counties do not submit a plan, they will need to begin implementing strategies listed in the plan that the state has put together for them,” she said.

If the state does not meet goals set by EPA, Kappalman said there will be consequences.

“We are unsure of exact consequences at this point, but can be anything from limiting future growth capacity at wastewater treatment plants and more within the permit process to ensure growth in existing areas and preserving farms and forest lands,” she said.

Commissioner Paul Smith (R) said the county will submit something by the due date, but said the projected costs are “astronomical” and “not feasible.”

The federal Clean Water Act, he said, is subject to feasibility of the initiatives required for cleanup, but the state has not addressed the feasibility provisions.

“I cannot see the state punishing us for something that is not feasible,” he said.