Localities brace for new regulations

Published 9:47 pm Monday, November 29, 2010

Hampton Roads communities are reeling at the possibility of complying with proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations designed to decrease pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

A study by the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission determined that complying with the regulations would cost area communities a total of about $1 billion, which equates to an average annual storm water fee of $1,670 for each household.

“This is a budget-buster,” said Eric Nielsen, Suffolk’s director of public works. “These numbers are just too big.”

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In Suffolk, complying with the regulations would cost about $45 million annually — or $528 for every man, woman and child in the city.

The HRPDC estimates implementing the regulations could cost Suffolk up to $628 million — more than its entire annual budget, which approached $460 million this fiscal year.

The new regulations aim to reduce the amount of phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment that flows into the Bay. The massive Chesapeake Bay watershed includes about 64,000 square miles, spanning parts of six states and the District of Columbia. The southernmost point of the bay watershed is in Suffolk, and the watershed stretches north to Cooperstown, N.Y.

Almost 17 million people live in the affected area, which also is home to 88,000 farms, 483 significant water treatment plants and thousands of smaller plants.

Each state is required to develop a plan to comply with the regulations by December. Localities and states that do not develop and comply with plans face fines and other sanctions.

The cost of implementing the new regulations “would place an unreasonable financial burden on the residents of Hampton Roads,” according to a staff report by the HRPDC. In Suffolk, implementing the new regulations would mean retrofitting all roadways, neighborhoods and commercial developments that were constructed prior to the adoption of the Chesapeake Bay ordinance in the mid-1980s with storm water management ponds.

“That’s a huge cost,” Nielsen said. “One of the questions is who’s going to retrofit it.”

Many shopping centers in the city, like some on North Main Street, already are built out, Nielsen said, and have no room for ponds.

The new regulations also could affect what type of fertilizer area residents are permitted to use on their lawns.

“One of the items you may see in the not-too-distant figure is that you’ll no longer be able to buy standard fertilizers,” Nielsen said. “[You may find] they just don’t have the nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers anymore.”

For more information on the Chesapeake Bay regulations, visit www.epa.gov.