ENC Regional News
11:48 am
Fri May 30, 2008

State House bill could halt new stormwater runoff rules

State House bill could halt new stormwater runoff rules

New Bern, NC – INTRO - New stormwater runoff rules for 20 coastal counties that go into effect in August may be withdrawn if a state House bill gets legislative approval. George Olsen has more.

The new rules would replace standards set in the 1980s to reduce polluted run-off that was making its way to shellfish waters resulting in temporary or permanent closures. Those rules allowed development to cover up to 25% of its surface with impervious materials before stormwater controls had to be put in place, and those controls had to be able to handle up to an inch-and-a-half of rainfall in a 24-hour period. The rules were doomed from the start, according to Frank Tursi, the Cape Lookout CoastKeeper with the North Carolina Coastal Federation.

02:33 Research done in New Hanover County, in South Carolina, in numerous freshwater streams, shows that 10% is really the trigger, when you exceed 10% impervious surface in a watershed, you really start to see water quality decline. At 15% you start to see distribution of species change, and at 20% in a saltwater system, bacteria levels generally become too high to safely allow the harvesting of clams and oysters.

That's why the Coastal Federation supports the new rules drawn up by the Environmental Management Commission. Those rules would only allow 12% impervious surface on development disturbing at least an acre of land within half-a-mile of shellfish waters before requiring stormwater controls that would have to handle three-and-a-half to nearly four inches of rain in a 24-hour period. The rules become law in August, but a disapproval bill in the state House would keep those rules from going into effect if the Legislature approves the measure. Among the bill's co-sponsors is Representative Pat McElraft of Carteret and Jones Counties. She says she's absolutely in favor of stormwater rules but these go much further than needed.

00:31 If you have a lot of wetlands these new stormwater rules take the wetlands calculations out when you do your impervious concrete calculations. These rules take the wetlands out of those calculations which in my opinion is a taking and North Carolina has a legal liability there, and of course we all know that wetlands are the most important part of the property when it comes to clean water because they act as a filter for that water.

She favors rules similar to those on Emerald Isle where she was a commissioner for three terms. Those rules require up to two inches of rain to be handled by stormwater controls in a 24-hour period. Her own experiences in Carteret County also lead her to wonder how necessary stricter controls are.

04:55 The only shellfish, permanent shellfish closure we've had in the Emerald Isle area, as developed as it is, it's almost all developed, was in the 70's and that's in Archers Creek and the reason for the shellfish closure there is it doesn't flush. And most of the closures have been in creek areas where it doesn't flush. So maybe we need to look at getting some dredging in those areas and allowing them to flush.

Frank Tursi admits the new rules alone won't return shellfish waters to pristine conditions. The rules only affect new development in a 20-county coastal area.

19:07 I can take you on the White Oak River and show you 60 pipes and ditches that dump stormwater direct into the river, and they're not illegal. Until we do something about those existing sources, I don't know if we'll see any marked improvement in our worst shellfish waters. I think these rules can protect what's left.

But he adds that three of the counties Onslow, New Hanover and Brunswick already have similar rules in place because of federal mandates, and while some critics of the new rules say they could have a stifling effect on coastal economies, he says recent history indicates they'll be nothing of the sort.

21:49 and in Brunswick County they've been in place for almost 8 years, and that county is one of the fastest growing counties in the country and all this took place with these rules in place, so the argument that these rules would somehow stop economic development, bring coastal economies to a standstill as many opponents have claimed those three counties provide a laboratory and it hasn't happened.

The disapproval bill is currently referred to the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. I'm George Olsen.