Piorko, manager for the state Department of Natural Resources &
Environmental Control's sediment and stormwater program, said
creation of one or more stormwater utilities would provide both
dedicated money and efficiency in delivering stormwater-related
services. As it stands now, responsibility and authority are
spread among many agencies, down to maintenance associations in
individual communities, which are supposed to maintain drainage
is particularly significant for New Castle County government
which has had to cope with two 'once in 100 years' storms in
successive Septembers. Having bought out properties in Glenville
which were severely damaged and, in some case, rendered
uninhabitable by flooding after 2003 storm appears to have set a
precedent. Knowledgeable observers consider the $15 million that
the county put up as its share of that state-county buyout deal
to be an order-of-magnitude indication of what might lie ahead.
officials have become increasingly concerned that coming to the
aid of one community, even though it arguably suffered the most
collective damage, may have opened a figurative floodgate.
created a situation where we have dozens of upset communities,"
County Council president Christopher Coons said, referring to
those in which homeowners are demanding similar succor. "We
could say we'll keep on going the way we're going now, [which]
in my estimation we cannot possibly do ... or we can go in a
presentation to Council's special services committee on Oct. 25,
Piorko said there are close to 1,000 stormwater utilities in
operation across the nation. None are in Delaware. The idea, he
said, goes back to the 1970s, but has been given impetus by an
apparently increasing number of catastrophic storms.
Established at various governmental levels, the utilities are
vested with authority to deal with a 'menu' of different
programs. The more programs they manage, of course, the higher
the cost. Money to pay for the programs is assessed against
property owners, most commonly on the basis of equivalent
residential units. A single unit would typically be 2,500 square
feet with a typical commercial establishment rated at four
units, he said.
you pave, the more you pay" is the guiding philosophy, he
explained. It is generally assumed that water running off
imperviously paved surfaces is the principal contributor to
swelling streams beyond their capacity during heavy rainfalls.
A rule of
thumb, he said, is that homeowners generally are willing to pay
up to an average of $3.80 a month, or just over $45 a year, for
what might be considered tantamount to a kind of flood
insurance. Utilities, he surveyed, charge between 65¢ to $15 a
politically palatable, the fee has to be "adequate, stable and
equitable," he said. It would have to be collected by an entity
with taxing authority, either as a real estate tax -- as New
Castle County now collects taxes levied by public school
districts -- to as a separate fee -- as New Castle County does
not to finance sewers.
present arrangement, Piorko said, the various agencies "need a
whole lot more money than we have now to do our jobs." That
would be partly offset in a stormwater utility by efficiencies
realized by eliminating duplication of effort and by the ability
to leverage money collected locally with available federal,
state and other grants.
Councilman Penrose Hollins pointed out that, no matter how well
financed a stormwater utility might be, it still would have to
choose among competing demands for service. "How can it keep its
customers happy? If it goes after [problems along] Red Clay,
people who live by the other creeks won't be happy," he said.
at the committee session was the extent of county government's
responsibility. Assistant county engineer Richard Baccino said
that, strictly speaking, it is required to maintain
infrastructure, such as storm drains and sewers, and to keep
nontidal streams unobstructed and flowing. Where flooding and
damage occur, it is difficult to assign it proportionally to
those obligations. Going into mitigation beyond them "is an
optional area and an expensive one," he said.
disclaimed any advocacy for establishing a utility by the
natural resources department. "We see our role as a facilitator,
providing whatever assistance we can while not ramming a utility
down anybody's neck," he said.
Nevertheless, he revealed during his presentation that possible
formation of such an entity was a topic of discussion among
several state and county officials who met with Governor Ruth
Ann Minner on Oct. 22. The governor's office did not respond
to a Delaforum request for information concerning that meeting.
sounds like a stormwater utility is a panacea, but it is not. It
is still a political issue," said Councilman William Tansey, who
chairs the special services committee.
activist Marion Stewart, of the Civic League for New Castle
County, was much stronger in denouncing the idea as way for
County Council to get around confronting the issues involved.
"What we need is a Council that is willing to step up to the
plate, not shove it off to an unelected body we can't get at,"
she said. "The money is going to come from the same source
anyway -- the people who own property. It's your job."
agreed that the same authority that would be vested in a
semiautonomous utility could be given to a department within
separate matter before the committee, special services official
Michael Harmer said the department issued 371 work orders in
response to 152 calls for service at 115 locations after the
2004 storm. He said the calls came from a wider area than those
handled a year earlier, with much of the more recent damage
occurring outside of mapped floodplains.