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Fayette studies storm water management for new development

| Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Nearly 50 municipal leaders from throughout Fayette County gathered Monday in Uniontown for an informational meeting regarding a state storm water management program for new development.

Municipalities will be eligible for some reimbursement for crafting a mandatory management ordinance. The cost of ensuring their new construction complies with storm water management will fall to developers.

The county has engaged McMillen Engineering of South Union to study the storm water situation in the county's 42 municipalities and prioritize problems and obstruction areas in surveys municipal leaders should return.

Tammy Stenson and James Stanton of McMillen led the meeting. Stenson said about 72 percent of municipalities have completed the surveys, the first phase of enacting state Act 167. The second phase will be accelerated, with McMillen's report complete at the end of June.

By February 2011, all municipalities must have an ordinance in place that is consistent with requirements of Act 167. A letter from the municipality's solicitor or engineer indicating compliance must be sent to the state Department of Environmental Protection. Code enforcement officers will enforce the ordinances. Act 167 only applies to new development, not existing structures.

Stanton said the surveys will be the basis of modeling storm water running into the three county watersheds: the Youghiogheny, the Monongahela and the Cheat rivers. "We are looking 10 years into the future, using the census and the Fayette County Comprehensive Plan. We're looking at future developments to arrive at an allowable discharge rate to maintain current conditions, then address problems we have now," he said.

Municipalities that fall under the federal MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems) plan for groundwater quality and discharge do have to comply with Act 167, which also addresses flooding.

Ruth Sitler, with the DEP's storm water management section, Harrisburg, said MS4 regulations just cover urban areas of municipalities, while Act 167 covers the entire municipality.

"They will be required to mitigate increasing flows to keep storm water discharge at current levels. MS4 and Act 167 are separate, but they do complement each other."

Sitler said MS4 places the responsibility for water quality and discharge on the municipality, while Act 167 places the responsibility for controlling storm water on developers. Sitler added no municipality can pass storm water regulations less stringent than Act 167, but can pass stricter regulations if they choose.

Much of the cost of crafting the ordinance to comply with DEP requirements can be reimbursed, Sitler said.

Fayette County is eligible to receive 75 percent reimbursement for all costs incurred to complete the plan. Each municipality is eligible for 75 percent of costs to adopt and implement their ordinance. The reimbursement will come after the ordinance is adopted and sent to the DEP with invoices.

Sitler said Act 167 received no funding for the 2009-2010 fiscal year and has been zeroed out in Gov. Ed Rendell's proposed 2010-2011 budget. She said the DEP will send future requests for reimbursement under Act 167 to the General Assembly for supplemental funding.

Once McMillen completes its study, copies will be available at the county Office of Planning, Zoning and Community Development for municipal officials to review in order to guide them in adapting the DEP model ordinance to their communities.

Ultimately, Act 167 should result in a consistent storm water release rate for each watershed, Stanton said, yielding three release rates for the county. He said a municipality should pass the cost for devising a compliant storm water management plan to the developer, with the amount payable to the municipality's engineer and solicitor determined in advance and included in the ordinance that must be passed.

He told officials, "You should have someone review those development plans so we don't continue in the same cycle with storm water."

Act 167 only addresses impervious surfaces of more than 5,000 square feet created by new development, Sitler said. "In the ordinance, there will be penalties. Your zoning officers will enforce the ordinances."

Although Act 167 originally passed the General Assembly in 1978 and each county was supposed to be compliant by 1988, most have not yet done so. "There is a potential for ramifications," Sitler said. "I do not have specifics for the Southwest Region, but in the Northwest Region, counties face a potential loss of permits from the Department (of Environmental Protection) and the potential loss of grant programs."

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