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Selectmen to Fight EPA’s Charles River Stormwater Mandate

The Board of Selectmen vowed at their April 12 meeting to fight a new mandate from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for managing stormwater runoff into the Charles River, saying the estimated $84 million to $110 million cost would cripple the town government and drive away business.

"This program is going to be so expensive that we may not be able to handle it in the budget anymore," Town Engineer Michael Santora said. Calling the costs involved "a tremendous burden," he estimated the town's share of implementing the regulations at between $30 and $65 million, with businesses responsible for the rest of the costs.

The board agreed with Santora's request and Town Administrator Louis Celozzi's recommendation to apply for a grant from the EPA to explore the feasibility of creating a "stormwater utility" that – if adopted – would charge homeowners and businesses a fee to pay for the program based on the amount of impervious surfaces – basically, roofs, sidewalks and parking areas – on their properties.

Selectmen Chairman William Buckley stressed that the town is not planning to institute such a program at this time. Celozzi recommended applying for the grant, saying it would help the town three ways: first, the town would learn what it has to do; second, the town would gain information needed to fight the mandate; and, third, the town would know how to cope with the mandate if efforts to delay it are unsuccessful.

Santora and engineer Rosalie Starvish from Baystate Environmental Consultants, Inc. of East Longmeadow – the town's consulting engineers – briefed the board about the EPA's new regulations and efforts to date with the towns of Bellingham and Franklin to fight them. The EPA announced on April 7 that it had picked the three towns to pilot the new regulations before extending them to others towns along the Charles River.

According to Santora, the EPA is advocating that town create a "stormwater utility" to raise funds to pay for the stormwater management programs. The EPA suggests a flat rate for residences, a rate for small businesses and industries, and a higher rate for larger businesses and industries, he explained. One town in Vermont is charging $100 per household per year, he noted, but added that to raise the sum needed to fund Milford's requirements might mean that "That fee could be more than your sewer use fee to generate that kind of revenue."

If the grant is approved, the EPA would pay for 75 percent of the feasibility study, with the town having to pay the remaining 25 percent in cash or in-kind serves, Starvish said.

Selectman Dino DeBartolomeis noted that, back in the 1970s, when the EPA required new wastewater treatment facilities to be built, the federal agency paid about 90 to 95 percent of the cost. For this mandated program, they are paying nothing, he said.

He recommended contacting Congressman Richard Neal and Senator John Kerry and Senator Scott Brown to protest the cost. "Long-term, you just can't afford to do that [mandate] due to the expense," he said. "Long-term, the town cannot afford $30 million, not without reimbursement," he added. "This is going to wreck everything."

Calling the costs involved "absolutely ridiculous," Selectman Brian Murray noted, "It's an absolute fright-ening and ridiculous number by the federal government to expect the town to operate and deliver services." He advocated a "major effort" to apply for the grant; work with Bellingham and Franklin to oppose the mandate; contact both the local and national Chamber of Commerce groups to get businesses involved; and, contact state legislators to enlist their help. "We absolutely, positively have to petition our federal legislators and we have to do it in a concerted fashion," Murray said.

"If we have to come up with these kinds of numbers, we're not going to be able to operate a municipality," Murray said. He also noted that the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was not in favor of the EPA's proposed phosphorus control programs and termed the EPA "stubborn" for not listening to the state agency.

"This is just simply not sustainable," Buckley said of the mandate's cost. The EPA's "thought process is, well if the town can't afford it, tax the citizens," he said. That would be "a recipe for disaster," he added.

Any business that has to bear the costs of retro-fitting its current drainage systems will probably move out of the area instead, and towns not facing the mandate will gain a competitive advantage in attracting business, Buckley said.

Please visit for the text of the EPA Announcements.

What Will All This Cost?

Over the past seven fiscal years, the town has spent $212,000 to comply with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) general permit for stormwater discharges from Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s), according to a report given to the Board of Selectmen by Town Engineer Michael Santora and engineering consultant Rosalie Starvish.

The town, they said, will have to spend $476,000 in the next five fiscal years to comply with expanded permit requirements the EPA is now requiring, which include:

• Creating a Phosphorus Control Plan (PCP);

• Creating a map of the town's entire storm drainage system;

• Creating written Operations and Maintenance (O&M) plans and Stormwater Pollution Prevention plans (SWPPPs) for all town-owned facilities; and,

• Conducting outfall testing and water quality screening, according to Santora and Starvish.

That $476,000 estimate does not include the estimated $320,000 cost of producing a town-wide stormwater map, the two engineers added.

Between the next fiscal year – FY 2011, which begins on July 1 – and FY2021, the complete 10-year implementation of the Phosphorus Control Plan will cost an estimated $64 million to $110 million, Santora and Starvish said. The town's share would be between $30 and $65 million, with businesses responsible for the rest of the costs, they said.

What Did the EPA Announce?

On April 7, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will require new measures to control stormwater pollution in the Charles River watershed. Under a pilot program that EPA is accepting public comments on, large industrial, commercial and multi-family residential facilities in three communities in the Upper Charles River Watershed will be required to reduce polluted runoff from their properties. This initiative is part of a continuing, multi-faceted effort to restore the Charles to environmental health.

The EPA action will apply to properties with two or more acres of impervious area (parking lots, roofs, roadways, etc.) in the towns of Milford, Franklin, and Bellingham. These large property owners with two or more acres of impervious surfaces will now be required to obtain an EPA Clean Water permit, and to take steps to reduce pollutants in stormwater.

Large impervious areas are one of the last major unregulated sources of water pollution, and a chief culprit in dramatic algae blooms – including toxic cyanobacteria – that have plagued the Charles in recent years. Extensive impervious cover also aggravates the severity of flooding because those areas diminish the amount of land that can naturally soak in and filter rainwater.

The federal Clean Water Act mandates that storm water sources that degrade water quality below minimum standards be managed to reduce the harm they cause. Numerous studies have demonstrated a direct link between pollution in storm water and large impervious surfaces such as those coming under regulation with this permit.

Over the past dozen years, Federal, state, and local governments have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up the Charles River, taking action to nearly eliminate sewer overflows, to improve wastewater treatment plants and to clean up stormwater.

"Today EPA is asking everyone to do their fair share to protect our most precious resource – a clean environment that supports healthy communities and a robust economy," said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA's New England office. "This effort will spur creative thinking to develop appropriate green infrastructure to help capture stormwater before it is channeled into our rivers, lakes and streams. EPA will provide maximum flexibility and a reasonable time-frame to ensure that together we all will protect the Charles."

Currently, municipalities bear the burden for managing all of the stormwater that flows from public and private properties through their storm drain systems. The proposed pilot program will shift some of that burden to the private properties such as mall parking lots and commercial and industrial office parks that shed substantial volumes of contaminated stormwater through municipal pipes. Under existing regulations, virtually all of these facilities are not required to control stormwater, even as municipal governments face tightened stormwater requirements.

The permit is designed to encourage private property owners and municipalities to work together, to produce a comprehensive approach to storm water management. Under the EPA program, property owners can choose to control their own stormwater to specified standards, or can work with their town government on a community-wide approach. Facilities can choose from a simple menu of stormwater controls, and receive specified credits to meet their reduction requirement. Analyses conducted by EPA and the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection indicate that municipal-wide programs will produce greater benefits at lower costs.

"This pilot program will provide valuable information about effective strategies to manage stormwater from commercial, industrial and other private properties in these three communities," said Laurie Burt, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. "The information gathered through this pilot is important and will help demonstrate how businesses, working with local communities, can best address stormwater-related water quality challenges. At the same time, the pilot will provide valuable information that can help other Charles Watershed communities in their efforts to meet water quality standards."

The importance of controlling stormwater has been underscored with the recent intense rains and flooding experienced in New England. Stormwater controls such as those encouraged by this program will help reduce the severity of flooding. Capturing stormwater for infiltration back into the earth helps ensure a clean and safe water supply, replenishes depleted groundwater, and filters contaminants out of water before it enters lakes, ponds, rivers or streams. Under the EPA program, permittees will be required to infiltrate storm water into the ground where feasible, thus restoring underground aquifers' use as a drinking water source.

EPA is piloting the approach in the three uppermost communities along the Charles – Milford, Franklin and Bellingham. Stormwater controls will address local water quality problems in these communities, and will also provide benefits downstream. Commercial, industrial and high-density residential facilities with two or more acres of impervious area in the three communities will be required to apply for a Clean Water Act permit for stormwater discharges which eventually reach the Charles River. The permits will require that these facilities reduce phosphorus discharges by 65 percent through a variety of stormwater management practices. Ultimately, these requirements will likely apply to the entire Charles River watershed.

EPA will work with communities and regulated facilities to develop financing approaches, for example stormwater utilities, which have been successful elsewhere.

"CRWA's science established how critical stormwater management is," said Bob Zimmerman, Executive Director of Charles River Watershed Association. "The flooding of the past couple of weeks only underscores how important slowing stormwater down is for urban rivers. The Charles is national model, and EPA's new rules are the necessary next step towards a clean sustainable river."

"To effectively reduce the impacts of stormwater on the Charles River, we need to be aggressively tackling all sources of pollution," said John Kassel, president of Conservation Law Foundation. "We applaud EPA's decision to address polluted runoff from the parking lots and large commercial developments that now dominate our landscape and to require the innovative, low impact development approaches that will make a real difference in the Charles and beyond."

Since 1995, EPA's Clean Charles Initiative has featured coordinated efforts between EPA, state and local governments, private organizations, and environmental advocates. Cities and towns along the Charles have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in stormwater and sewer improvements. As a result, rapid progress has been achieved in the last decade in making the river safe for recreation, such as boating and, increasingly, swimming. Today's announcement addresses one of the last remaining unregulated sources of pollution to the Charles

The EPA's draft rules have been issued for public review and comment. The proposed rules, and instruction how to comment, can be found on the EPA's Charles River Web site, The official comment period will remain open until June 30, and EPA will accept written comments until that date. The EPA will hold two public informational meetings: the first will be from 7 to 9 p.m. on May 12 at the Tri-Country Regional Vocational Technical School at 147 Pond St., Franklin. On June 22, the EPA will hold another informational session from 6 to 7 p.m. at the same location. Immediately following the information session, the EPA will hold a formal public hearing at which it will receive oral and written comments for the official record.


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