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Local Officials Upset Over State’s Proposed Water Pollution Permit

by | Dec 16, 2014 4:04pm () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Energy, Environment, Local Politics, State Budget, State Capitol

Christine Stuart photo Municipal leaders are gearing up for a fight over how often they clean their storm drains and catch basins and track illicit discharges that end up polluting Connecticut’s rivers and streams.

At a press conference in Cromwell Tuesday, mayors, first selectmen, and town managers said the state is creating another “unfunded mandate” that will cost them millions of dollars.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities said the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s draft permit to regulate this runoff from municipal streets will cost 80 cities and towns nearly $82 million.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said it is enforcing the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act, which mandates the permit.

However, municipal leaders say the state’s draft permit goes beyond what’s mandated by the federal government and extends the federal law to smaller rural towns like Killingworth.

Killingworth First Selectwoman Catherine Iino said the permit would cost her small town, with a population of about 6,500, about $1.2 million for new equipment and more than $100,000 annually. It also would require her to increase the local highway budget by 12 percent.

But “it’s not all about the money,” Iino said. “Among other things our town would be required to begin leaf collection. Have you been to Killingworth? We’re pretty much one big forest.”

DEEP acknowledged that the draft permit would be applied to smaller, less densely populated towns than federal law requires.

“While federal law does not require the same standards for communities with less population density, we believe it is important to extend improved storm water management practices to them,” a spokesman with DEEP said. “This will help improve the condition of many impaired water bodies in rural areas and protect the condition of others that are in better condition.”

DEEP said it understands the fiscal constraints facing communities and hopes they can address that in the final version.

A public hearing on the permit will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at DEEP headquarters, 79 Elm St., Hartford.

On the other side of the argument, environmentalists like Roger Reynolds, legal counsel with the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, don’t believe the draft permit goes far enough in regulating the pollutants that end up in Connecticut’s waterways.

“Keeping water clean is not an unfunded mandate,” Reynolds said Monday.

In a document submitted to DEEP, Reynolds argues that the permit does not meet the requirements for the maximum amount of control over illicit discharges and fails to adequately address the “Total Maximum Daily Load.”

“If the municipalities don’t think these provisions are going to work, then it’s their responsibility to determine what will,” Reynolds said. “There’s a lot of talk about costs but a lot of their regions have done storm water authorities to raise money to pay for this.”

He said there’s also a way to come up with a formula for the biggest polluters in town and to get them to foot the bill. He said municipalities shouldn’t dismiss these regulations based on the condition of Connecticut’s bodies of water.

DEEP reports that more than 50 percent of the waters it monitors are not clean enough to support recreation and fishing. It concluded that the primary reason for this poor quality is stormwater runoff.

But that’s not how local municipal officials see the issue.

“Once again, we have a runaway state agency that sort of just is out there all on its own deciding to implement new regulations to us that will cost the City of Danbury $5 million to implement,” Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said. “And frankly our taxpayers have had enough. They can’t afford this kind of overregulation.”

He said this permit as written would require his Public Works Department to street sweep eight times a year, when the state of Connecticut doesn’t take care of its own highways through Danbury.

Boughton said the state always seems to blame the federal government, “yet when you compare what’s required of other states across our country, they have vastly different permits, vastly different standards that meet the requirements of the EPA.”

South Windsor Town Manager and CCM President Matt Galligan said he thinks the state should hire additional employees at the DEEP and have them go out and “do your stormwater prevention.”

But he said with the state projecting a budget deficit, that’s not going to happen. Instead, “they’re putting it on the backs of municipalities to spend the money and do the things that you’re supposed to be doing on a state level.”

Galligan said he would rather see taxes increased at the state level than the local level to fund this initiative.

Asked if he would support it if the state found a way to pay for it, Galligan said he doesn’t trust that the money would be there beyond one year.

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(14) Archived Comments

posted by: shinningstars122 | December 16, 2014  5:50pm

shinningstars122

I think one point not mentioned in this article is the importance of protecting watersheds and recharging aquifers for drinking water usage.

It may seem like a bad idea in the short term but in the long term it will have positive benefits.

The DEEP will have to work with the cities and towns to get creative in addressing and balancing these issues while keeping in mind the reality that our cities and towns need to be fiscally prudent.

Is the issue that our cities and towns are being broadsided here or did they simply ignored what was known coming down the pike?

posted by: Fisherman | December 16, 2014  9:14pm

“Keeping water clean is not an unfunded mandate”

Spoken like a true lawyer; as are all of CFE’ directors. If it wasn’t for the money, they couldn’t care less about clean water.

posted by: art vandelay | December 17, 2014  12:21am

art vandelay

One of the greatest smells on a crisp fall day was burning leaves.  I miss that.  Now they are considered a pollutant which destroy the water quality of our rivers and streams. Another joy in life destroyed by our overbearing/regulated Federal & State Government. Such a pity.

posted by: LongJohn47 | December 17, 2014  8:13am

Fisherman—you prefer “waters ... not clean enough to support recreation and fishing”???

posted by: dano860 | December 17, 2014  8:35am

Yet we will continue to put TONS of pure salt on the roads. Hundreds of pounds at a single intersection, tons on the roads where rivers run. Hypocrites
Hire more people! That’s a CCM guy for you. Inflate the payrolls for something that is not going to solve the problem. Increase State taxes not Town taxes? The difference is???
More redistribution of money decided upon by more State employees via cumbersome grants or as a favor to a connected politician.
I like the statement about ‘going after the big polluters and make them pay’ . That’s a sure fire plan to run business out of the State. Once again, least business friendly State in the nation.
DEEP is following the Feds and our old friend Gina McCarthy just throw out crazy regulations and wait. Nobody will protest because we can cite small incidents and make them into big ones. Wrong!
Towns with the most rivers and wetlands will pay the price and future development will be thwarted.

posted by: PeterM | December 17, 2014  11:00am

Peter Maier
What many do not know, is that EPA never implemented the CWA, due to a faulty applied water pollution test. The BOD (Biochemical Oxygen Demand) test takes 30 days, to measure all the oxygen demanding pollution in sewage, but EPA only used its 5-day value, when it set sewage treatment standards to implement the CWA. By doing so, EPA not only ignored 60% of the BOD pollution, but also all the nitrogenous (urine and protein) pollution, while this waste is also fertilizer or as now called a nutrient.
Too embarrassed to admit this mistake, EPA and many directly involved in sewage treatment, successfully are blaming the runoffs from farms and cities for this pollution, while the same type of pollution still is ignored in municipal sewage.
In stead of wasting their members contributions on lawsuits, environmental groups, if they really are interested in cleaning up our open waters, should spent their time in educating their representatives in Washington and demand they hold EPA accountable for failing to implement the CWA as it was intended.

posted by: NoNonsense2014 | December 17, 2014  12:14pm

@LongJohn47: I think you missed Fisherman’s point. “Keeping water clean is not an unfunded mandate” is a ridiculous statement. It IS an unfunded mandate if the State is telling cities and towns to do it, without providing money to do it.
And @ dano860: I think that taking the CCM’s guy’s comment literally is a mistake. I think he was being sarcastic in saying that the State should hire additional people to do the work, in that cities and towns are being told to do this additional clean-up because the State says so, but the State will likely not require itself to do the same on State roads. And as to “the difference” in taxes: income taxes are based on income, while property taxes are not. So if cities and towns have to absorb the extra cost, it will be levied on property taxpayers, regardless of their income. Thus, it would hit those on limited incomes (retirees and the disabled, for example) harder in property taxes than it would if income taxes were to pay for it. I’m not saying either is right, and I’m not saying that taxpayers can afford to pay additional income taxes, either. But that’s the difference.

posted by: LongJohn47 | December 17, 2014  4:45pm

NoNo—I wasn’t replying to Fisherman’s “unfunded mandate” point, but to the underlying implication that the only reason someone would want to advance a clean water agenda is that somehow they’re benefiting financially.  If s/he is truly a fisherman, I would think that s/he would support cleaning up the rivers and streams.

As always, the question is “who pays”.  In my opinion, if someone is polluting they should stop it if possible and pay to clean it up.  I say “if possible” because pollution from some sources, like cars, can’t simply be “stopped”, but in this case there should be extra fees imposed to pay for mitigation.

Making cities and towns responsible for policing pollution sources within their borders makes sense.  They already have building inspectors.  They have water control boards.  They have conservation commissions.  They have enforcement staff.  They know their neighbors and can work with them when necessary.

Take sewer lines, for example.  They’re a municipal function and if they’re not working properly then the taxpayers should bear the cost of repair.  The main problem is that very few municipalities actually take the time to proactively inspect, and so problems can develop which go unreported and unaddressed.

And in this vein, it’s not unheard of for individual homeowners or businesses to improperly hook up to storm water systems rather than sewers.  In this case the homeowner or business should be forced to fix the problem.  It’s also true that septic systems can fail, and when they do they need to be replaced. 

I’m on the board of a non-profit that does a lot of work in this area, and you would be amazed at what our staff and volunteers have found when tracking down sources of pollution in streams, rivers, and the LI Sound.

None of this is cheap, but why should we let a few towns or people or businesses save money by ruining our natural resources?  Are we really so lame as a society that we can’t enforce strict laws that protect the environment for everyone?  Look at the map in the article.  Don’t you think we can do better?

posted by: NoNonsense2014 | December 17, 2014  7:55pm

@LongJohn47: I apologize for having misunderstood the point you were trying to make. I do not know whether your point about homes and/or businesses hooking up to storm water systems rather than sewer systems is valid or accurate. I don’t know how they would accomplish that, given that I would assume that water/sewer connections are inspected in any new construction. Nevertheless, that’s not what these new regulations are about. They are about runoff from municipal streets. They are about forcing cities and towns to clean storm water catch basins much more frequently and sweeping streets more frequently.

posted by: dano860 | December 17, 2014  10:12pm

NoNo, I also was being satirical. I certainly know the difference in the taxes, but thanks. At least you took the time to explain and not degrade. Maybe someone else did benefit from your explanation.
I am opposed to the way that these folks put incumbencies on towns then pretend that they have the answers to funding them.
This is another piece of law that hasn’t gone through without public comment or means testing. That simple process really needs to start being used.
Small rural towns will have a huge financial burden placed upon them with this mandate.
The new, expensive, separating drains that are being mandated by some towns are efficient but also expensive to clean.
I did thirteen years on a Wetland Agency in a rural town. We asked for and got many storm water filtration systems installed by developers. Of course the town absorbed the cleaning and maintenance of all of them.

posted by: shinningstars122 | December 18, 2014  6:24am

shinningstars122

@PeterM the 5 day BOD test has been one of the standards in wastewater treatment long before the EPA was created and the CWA was enacted.

It seems to this reader that your are confusing BOD and TSS removal, which the majority of sewage plants are required to do in the US usually at a minimum of a 85% reduction, with plant what the majority of plants in Connecticut do in addition which is nitrogen removal.

Many plants in the states perform nitrification, which is converting ammonia to nitrite and then to nitrate.

With many plant upgrades over the last decade many sewer plants now perform de-nitrification, which is converting nitrate to nitrogen gas.

Connecticut wastewater treatment plants have worked worked hard, thanks to the support of tax payers and sewer users, to met the TMDL of nitrogen discharging into Long Island Sound.

This presenation details the goals and successes of the   nitrogen trading program.

posted by: LongJohn47 | December 18, 2014  7:33am

NoNo—here’s a report that shows what I’m talking about in terms of problems with incorrect/illegal hookups.  You’re right in thinking it shouldn’t happen, but it does.

http://74.220.22.120/uploads/files/hw-news/hw-sewage-spills-report-march2012.pdf

And my larger point remains—whoever causes pollution should pay to clean it up, and if the offender is the municipality itself, then we’re all on the hook

posted by: PeterM | December 18, 2014  2:08pm

@shinningstars122, It is true that the BOD5 is commonly used workdwide.BUT, using it without any nitrogen data is wrong, as the test itself also measures the N-BOD or as it is called nitrification. So, first learn about the BOD test and you will learn that even EPA in 1982 acknowledged that part of the BOD5 can already be N-BOD. Engineers still assume that the BOD5 in raw sewage is only C-BOD5 iand that is often not the case. In such cases the plant is designed to treat the wrong waste, C-BOD, in stead of N-BOD. For a description of the BOD test, visit www.petermaier.net.

posted by: ELR | December 20, 2014  4:55pm

In Milford some of our storm drains were literally packed to the street with mud and sand after Sandy. A moderate rainfall flooded the streets. This went on for more than a year.

Two neighbors I know of called city officials, who explained that their drain-cleaning machine was broken and a repair/replacement was too expensive. One person called the tax assessor and requested lower taxes since her inland house was inaccessible by car for several days a month. The assessor told her that people near the water should expect to be flooded a lot. Certainly that’s true for people who live near the water in Milford, at least.

At the same time, Milford found the money to hire an open space manager. I love open space and lord knows Milford needs to protect our last acre without a house on it, but how does it make sense to spend tax dollars to protect open space instead of on protecting the space where residents and taxpayers actually live?

My point? When the taxpayers can’t get a city to suck out the sludge piled to the brim of a storm drain, it’s not a bad thing for the state to step in.

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