Bristol Borough seeks exemption from potentially costly stormwater regulations

This month, Bristol Borough will spend around five grand in an attempt to save a couple hundred thousand dollars.

Samantha Brinker of Gilmore & Associates, the borough’s engineering firm, outlined upcoming state and federal stormwater requirements at last week’s borough council work session.

Since 2003, federal and state regulations have required municipalities to meet requirements of the Clean Water Act.

Bristol’s current permit expires in 2018. The next annual report Gilmore & Associates sends to the DEP in September will be sent in addition to the borough’s Notice of Intent for its next permit.

But the 2018 permits come with new requirements for municipalities to reduce sediment in their stormwater runoff that goes to impaired waters by 10 percent over five years – efforts that could cost upwards of $150,000. 

In terms of this permit, this pertains to the quality of stormwater runoff water. A municipality must show they meet standards for the water quality of its stormwater runoff. That is, any water from rain, snow or surface runoff and drainage that travels over land and discharges into waterways.

For example, rainwater that travels over streets, picking up soil, pet waste, pesticides or other pollutants, as it flows into storm drains and into local streams, rivers and lakes without being treated.

According to the Clean Water Act, all municipalities across the country must apply for permits every five years. These mandates come from the Environmental Protection Agency and are given to state departments of environmental protection, or DEP, to enforce.

Impaired waters are bodies of water designated by the DEP as too polluted or otherwise degraded to meet its standards.

The Notice would also serve as a binding contract detailing what the borough will do to achieve the reduction.

Bristol Borough’s stormwater runoff goes mostly to Mill Creek and Silver Lake — both of which are impaired waters in terms of sediment.

Those efforts can include actions ranging from stream restoration, tree planting and storm drain cleaning to installing permeable pavement that traps and filters pollutants and enhanced filtration practices.

Each of these are assigned credit values, where the borough would need to meet a minimum number of credits for a permit.

The costs associated with this new permit would depend on what actions the borough would need to take in order to meet the requirements.

Gilmore & Associates assess the current practices and determine what else is needed. However, some of those actions are most costly than others,

Street sweeping, for instance, is already in use by the borough but does not garner many credits. A larger project, for more credits, like a stream bank restoration could cost $150,000 or more.

Those costs would be hardship on a small municipality like Bristol, which began its 2016 budget with a projected deficit of nearly $875,000.

Additionally, last year, the borough’s water and sewer authority came under fire from residents for doubling its annual fees to pay for much-needed infrastructure work and to cover revenue losses.

Brinker recommended applying for a waiver for a 2018 permit as the borough currently meets all other requirements.

The waiver request will attempt to show that the borough is not a significant contributing factor to stormwater sediment that passes through it on the way to Mill Creek or Silver Lake.

Therefore, the Borough should not have to shoulder the reduction costs.

Brinker also pointed out, in response to Councilman Greg Pezza’s question about the cost, that the DEP would not accept financial hardship as justification for a waiver. The approval would be based on the borough’s impact on the stormwater.

Such waiver approvals are rare, she added, but possible.

“My understanding is that it’s hard to get an exemption, but it’s possible if we can show we’re not contributing a lot,” Brinker explained. “But they could say ‘any’ contribution is enough.”

She also noted there are no known funding grants available for these projects, or even the costs to prepare the notice and exemption request.

The engineering firm’s estimated budget for the Notice of Intent form, checklist, data collection and pollution reduction plans for Silver Lake and Mill Creek is $30,000.

That’s on top of around $500 for the filing fee and a $5,000 two-year progress report.

Failure to comply with regulations could result in fines of up to $37,500 per violation per day.

Right now, Gilmore & Associates is authorized to spend the $5,500 for filing and progress report, and up to $5,000 more for the waiver, which must be submitted by Dec. 31.

If the waiver is not approved, Council will decide on projects and funding. One option would be to collaborate with neighboring municipalities to share the burden on any such projects. ••

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