Thursday, May 8, 2008

Time for a Stormwater Utility

Following heavy rains in 2004, the city’s Street Committee commissioned a study of storm-water drainage in a portion of the Scull Creek watershed between College Avenue and Mission Boulevard and from Lafayette Street to Cleburn Street. The city has not yet received the final report from the engineering firm, but the preliminary information suggests that costs could run as high as $1.5 million to improve the storm-water system in that area and reduce the frequency of flooded basements of homes in the neighborhood.

City Engineer Ron Petrie and Sarah Wrede, staff engineer and flood plain administrator, will make recommendations among alternative solutions for fixing the immediate problems, but the larger questions about storm-water must be addressed. There are consequences of building on our topography, of removing topsoil and replacing it with red dirt, and generally of trading absorbent wetlands for impervious surfaces. There are also policy decisions to be made on implementing best management practices to reduce storm-water run-off and to comply with the Clean Water Act and the EPA's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit program. More contentious perhaps, we also have to decide how to pay for improvement, maintenance, and expansion of the existing system.

Fayetteville can no longer rely on general revenues to solve the problem. We must consider a storm-water utility funded by impact fees applicable to new development and construction, as well as an annual system maintenance assessment for all property. Hundreds of other cities have adopted this approach since 1990, so our city can draw on their experiences to develop a model ordinance and equitable fees based on the amount of
impervious surfaces on the property.

At least one Alderman has announced support for storm-water impact fees, so citizens should contact their aldermen and encourage them to support such a program. The city council has no staff to draft ordinances, so also contact Mayor Coody and ask him to direct city staff to begin work on drafting a model strom-water utility impact fee ordinance -- as soon as they finish drafting the revised road impact fee ordinance that was requested months ago.

Otherwise, the alternative will be continued flooding in neighborhoods, red dirt debacles like the unfinished Aspen Ridge project, the destruction of Red Oak Park due to developers' negligence, and other consequences of unaccountable development that does not pay for the problems it creates.

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