totaled, it will cost between $85 million and $90 million in
each of the next five years, the Surface Water Management
Taskforce was told at a meeting on Mar. 3.
is not necessarily a request for new money. A lot of this is
money that is being spent or projected to be spent," according
to Jeffrey Bross, chairman of the committee which worked up the
estimates. He did not break the estimates down into continuation
of existing spending and new spending, but did emphasize that
the totals "are very, very preliminary numbers."
of the new money appears likely to come from the stormwater
utilities which would be empowered to impose fees upon property
owners. As with most of the approximately 1,000 such utilities
operating around the nation, the fees would be calculated on
what are known as 'equivalent runoff units'. The charge would be
scaled upward depending upon the amount of surface impervious to
water there is on the properties.
Stephanie Hansen, who chaired the committee which came up with
the governance structure likely to be recommended by the
taskforce, said the basic rate would be established by the
central coordinating council and be uniform throughout the
reason for having separate utilities, she said, is because each
of the counties has different management problems and ways of
addressing them. "We've rejected the 'one size fits all'
approach," she said.
she added, "the idea is not to supplement or change things that
are working well, but to coordinate what is being done and
provide for what isn't being done now."
governments would have responsibility to collect and disburse
the fee as part of their property tax structure in much the same
way that they now handle sewer charges. Hansen did not spell out
her committee's thinking concerning the degree of autonomy the
utilities would have relative to their respective governments.
said the committee "is leaning very strongly" toward a fee-based
system, rather than financing the utilities with state or county
tax money, because that establishes a closer link between
ratepayers and those who benefit from the system. In many places
where stormwater utilities have been established they have had
to survive court suits challenging them.
Castle County Executive Christopher Coons said he is "generally
comfortable" with the proposal. Having previously endorsed in
principle the concept of consolidating stormwater management in
quasigovernmental utilities, he said at the meeting that that is
"a more equitable and sustainable way to fund it."
McLeod, Kent County administrator, and Robert Stickels, Sussex
County administrator, also indicated that they are supportive of
However, State Representative Roger Roy said he "would hate to
see us add one more level of bureaucracy that slows down the
General Assembly approval would be necessary to implement much
of the proposal. When she convened the taskforce, Governor Ruth
Ann Minner indicated that she will support stormwater management
legislation during the current Assembly session, which ends in
Natural resources secretary John Hughes said it appears that the
taskforce can complete work and meet the April 1 deadline set by
the governor to present its recommendations. He agreed, however,
that "the transition from concepts to the nuts-and-bolts [of
implementation] is not going to be easy."
Stickels cautioned that politics is almost certainly going to
come into play as Assembly approval is sought. "If you want to
get opposition, leave ag (agricultural interests) in it," he
said. Open to question is what entities should be exempted from
having to pay the fee, he added. "Are you going to include the
University of Delaware, DelDOT (Delaware Department of
Transportation) and Dover Air Force Base?"
government agencies, churches and nonprofit organizations could
be added to that list, other taskforce members suggested.
Elsewhere, it is generally agreed that they should pay for the
same reason that they are charged for water and sewer service.
agreed that there will have to be an appeal mechanism for
dealing with disputes over what fee level is assigned to
specific properties. There also will need to be consideration
given to providing credits for properties whose owners have
taken various runoff control measures.
and Bross appeared to be in disagreement over whether
municipalities might be permitted to establish their own
utilities. "No one has the ability to opt out," Hansen said. At
another point in the discussion, Bross said that he thinks they
could so long as their utility measures up to statewide
proposal to set up a utility is pending before Wilmington City
Council. In that case, it would be a financing mechanism to
support the investment needed to meet federal and state mandates
to eventually eliminate discharge of sewage into the Delaware
River at times when the city's combined sanitary and storm
system cannot handle a rush of stormwater runoff. Kash
Srinivasian, public works commissioner and Wilmington's
representative on the taskforce, did not attend the meeting.
Addressing New Castle County's primary concern, buyouts of
flood-destroyed properties, "is like putting the genie back in
the bottle," Hansen said. Her committee is proposing parallel
reactive and proactive approaches. Purchasing damaged properties
would require state legislation which, like recently enacted
county legislation, would tie that to Federal Emergency
Management Agency guidelines. The utilities would be granted
power of eminent domain to acquire properties deemed to pose a
danger to human health and the environment.
Another thorny issue would be the utilities' role in considering
proposed plans for new development. Hansen said the committee's
approach would be "if it doesn't meet our heightened standards,
you will not get a permit to build." Hughes said, however, that
he "would hate to see the utilities get into the permitting
biggest advantage of working through utilities rather than
separate agencies charged with various aspects of stormwater
management, Hansen said, is that it provides a central point for
contact with the public. "One person is going to come out to
address the problem, not six people, and you won't have to call
six [telephone] numbers. ... The [affected] person doesn't care
who is out there fixing the problem, just that there is somebody
out there fixing it," she said.
said that, eventually, the system would add a water-quality
component to its initial quantity management, "but that is
further down the road.