Tuesday, July 16, 2002

N.Ky. forms plan for storm runoff

By Earnest Winston ewinston@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT WRIGHT - Northern Kentucky is forming a plan to take care of its storm water and comply with the federal Clean Water Act.

        A regional plan to keep storm water runoff from harming people and property will be presented tonight to the residents of the 31 Northern Kentucky cities who will pay for it through a new fee on their sewer bills.

  • What: Storm Water Management Plan open house. Sanitation District No. 1 is meeting with “stakeholders,” including city leaders, developers and environmentalists, to gather information on its draft Storm Water Management Plan for the region. The goals are to create a program to that complies with the Clean Water Act, and to develop a stable, adequate and dependable source of funding.
  • Why: The federally mandated storm water plan must be implemented by March. The new federal regulations are aimed at curbing stream pollution form storm water runoff. Local residents will be charged a new storm water management fee on their sewer bill to pay for the plan.
  • When: Today, 6 p.m.
  • Where: Marquise Banquet and Conference Center in Wilder.
  • What next: Information collected from tonight's meeting will be recorded and presented to the Sanitation District's Board of Directors.
        Northern Kentucky would be one of the first areas in the state to adopt regional storm water management. The Louisville/Jefferson County region already has one in place.

        Under the proposed regional storm water management plan prepared by Sanitation District No. 1, homeowners, property owners and businesses will be required to help pay for the new storm water management program covering 218 square miles in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties.

        Storm water programs, including street sweeping, retaining ponds and infrastructure projects currently put together by the cities themselves, would be funneled through the regional organization to meet a March 2003 federal compliance deadline.

        Storm water management handles the quantity and quality of runoff.

        “As we continue to grow and develop in an area, we need to deal with the amount of runoff that is generated,” said John Lyons, project manager of the Storm Water Management Program, “and we also need to deal with the amount of pollution that that runoff is carrying to the streams.”

        Residential property owners would be charged a single flat monthly fee based on one “equivalent residential unit“ of 2,600 square feet.

        Nonresidential property owners would be billed a monthly fee based on the total amount of impervious area - such as paved surfaces - on their property. Or, if they incorporate drainage management into their facilities, they could apply for a credit.

        “All of us in Northern Kentucky are going to have to assume some percentage of that cost,” said Mr. Lyons.

        “There will ultimately be some sort of permit compliance fee that will be assessed to everybody. But what that is, we haven't determined yet.”

        Mr. Lyons said the Sanitation District had no estimate yet of how much the regional plan would cost in total, or how much the residential fee would be per year.

        Several years in the making, the plan was developed with input from city leaders, developers, environmentalists, educators and industry representatives.

        In Cincinnati, storm water officials are working with a consultant to develop a plan that complies with the federal regulations. Queen City residents also will see an increase in their storm water utility bills, but the cost has not been determined.

        According to a 57-page report on Northern Kentucky's plan, storm water management planning in Northern Kentucky is currently reactive rather than proactive. The plan seeks to change that.

        Public education is a significant part of the new regional plan. It will include a storm water newsletter debuting this fall, direct mailing to customers and brochures at municipal buildings.

        “The whole theme of this is to educate the public and change people's habits,” Mr. Lyons said. Some of the dangerous runoff that enters the watersheds in Northern Kentucky comes from dumping of chemicals or laundry wastewater.

        The plan calls for impervious surfaces of public roads to be exempted from the amount that developers and businesses will be required to pay.

        Mr. Lyons said this exemption would prohibit cities from passing along storm water costs to residents. Cities, however, will be required to pay for the impervious area at their city buildings and garages.

        Erlanger City Administrator Bill Scheyer favors the regional approach proposed for Northern Kentucky because it is less burdensome and more cost-effective than doing it city by city.

        “It seems to make sense to me,” Mr. Scheyer said. “We need to be doing a better job of addressing our storm water issues throughout Northern Kentucky. The smartest way to do it is by working together with a regional agency.”

        Mr. Scheyer acknowledged that residents might have some reservations about helping pay for the proposed program, but, “I think they'll be OK with it once they understand it.”

        Bill Kreutzjans Sr., co-owner of Ashley Development Inc. in Edgewood, said if the fee developers have to pay is equitable, he doesn't see it driving development away from Northern Kentucky.

        “I hope not,” he said. “I think to be equitable to everybody, (the cost) has to be shared by everyone.”

        Although the Sanitation District is overseeing the implementation of the program and providing direction, cities and counties still will be responsible for cleaning catch basins and maintaining their storm sewer systems.

        The regional plan will create a capital improvement plan, and the Sanitation District will work with the municipalities to help pay for big projects to improve storm water management.

        Mr. Lyons said he does not foresee any of the municipalities' employees losing their jobs as storm water management goes regional. In fact, he said, jobs might be added.

        Tom O'Hara of Sunnybrook Drive in Boone County said he hopes the new program will help stop flooding in front of his house from a nearby creek, which rises when it rains.

        “The basic problem,” he said, “is even upstream from where I live, the retention ponds have two large outlet pipes (which) let the retention pond s serve as nothing more than a piece of the stream. So what water goes in comes out immediately, with very little slowdown to the flow of the water.”

        Mr. O'Hara said he has inspected at least 25 ponds upstream from his house. “In some cases, there is no retention pond. The developers are grandfathered into a situation that they don't have to provide by regulation,” he said.

        “But they should provide it by the very fact that they're damaging their downstream neighbors.”

        Larry Meyer of Erlanger said he doesn't mind paying for the proposed program because it will help improve water quality, as well as water runoff.

        “This program is not just going to help people who have problems with runoff, it's going to help everybody,” Mr. Meyer said.

        Florence will not be part of the program, because it has its own storm water utility, which is a rather new concept in Kentucky. The city, however, must still comply with the federal regulations.

        “We're a little further ahead of the game than anybody else in Northern Kentucky,” said Mike Knotts, a supervisor in the Florence Water and Sewer Department.

        In the Cincinnati, residents who own 10,000 or fewer squa re feet of property pay a storm water fee of $26.52 annually. Residential property owners with more than 10,000 square feet pay $37.13 per year, says Samuel George, chief engineer for Cincinnati's Stormwater Management Utility.

        Cincinnati has brought a consultant on board to help it become compliant with the federal mandate, which could cost the city about $250,000 in the first five years. Part of the cost will be passed to residential property owners, but mostly it will be paid for from existing storm water fees.

        In Deerfield Township, residents formed a storm water task force within a month of the devastating floods of July 18, 2001. Many blamed the flood in part on the rapid increase of impervious surface in Deerfield, leaving storm water to run off rather than be absorbed.

        Mason has embarked on a storm water utility plan to tackle a $6.3 million list of runoff control projects. Households pay $3 a month and businesses pay on the basis of how much paved surface they have.

        Butler County and Warren County are also investigating storm water utilities.

        At tonight's meeting in Wilder, attendees will tackle issues ranging from a proposed credit system for co mmercial properties to who should be required to pay for the new program.

        The Sanitation District's board of directors and county judge-executives will decide ratestructures, exemptions and credit systems.

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