Storm water quality may cost citizens

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 23, 2005

Suffolk residents may soon be paying to improve the quality of rainwater that drains into the area’s lakes and rivers.

This fall, the Suffolk City Council will be reviewing a proposal to impose a storm water runoff fee to help fund federal guidelines designed to protect the country’s waterways from damaging pollutants.

A private consultant and a task force of citizens and technical experts are working with the city on the proposal, he added.

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If city lawmakers choose to fund the mandates with a fee, it could be implemented as early as July 2006, said Eric Nielsen Jr., the city’s director of public works.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines are designed to deal with the growing amount of runoff that washes silt, chemicals and the like into local waters, Nielsen said. The amount and types of pollutants in storm water runoff can severely damage wetlands and marine habitats, he added.

Larger Hampton Roads localities, which were required to implement storm water control programs in the 1990s, have been charging the fees for more than a decade.

Chesapeake’s fee is the lowest, at $2.55 per month; Norfolk residents pay $5.48 a month.

Last year, the city spent set aside more than $1.2 million from the general fund on storm water control, Nielsen said. That money will be used to map the ditches, drains and ponds in the city.

Storm water fees may be used to cover a variety of related expenses, including flood control, a citywide mosquito control program, improving ditch drainage conditions and to prevent the illegal dumping of toxic chemicals.

The funds could also be used to cover expenses of repairing sinkholes that have cropped up in neighborhoods across the city, Nielsen added.

Public education is an important component of the plan, Nielsen said. The city already contributes money to the Hampton Road Planning District Commission’s public awareness campaign.

&uot;We need the public to be involved with this,&uot; Nielsen said. &uot;People need to realize that what they pour down the storm drains ultimately goes into the Nansemond River.&uot;

The city is also looking at assuming responsibility for the storm water holding ponds being built in new subdivisions, Nielsen.

Discharge from subdivisions dump into the ponds, where it is filtered before flowing into local waterways.

Under current law, pond maintenance is the responsibility of each community’s homeowners association, Nielsen said. Eventually, the ponds will need dredging, which could cost thousands of dollars.