City Leaders Struggle With MS4 Project

City Leaders Struggle With MS4 Project
Journal Review 1/16/2009
by Frank Phillips

Crawfordsville city leaders are struggling with how to implement MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System), an unfunded mandate of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, without breaking the bank and without incurring fines. Fines can cost cities $10,000 per day, per occurrence, according to the city’s MS4 Operator Gary Weliver. Money to operate the program is generated by fees collected from residents and businesses.

Thursday night, about 20 local industry and business leaders attended a meeting to find out how much the program will cost them. In other cities, the MS4 program costs larger industries $20,000 or more per year. The largest industry in Clarksville pays $21,600 per year, according to information from the Crawfordsville Storm Water Utility board.

The money paid into the MS4 program is used to clean storm sewers and everyone gets cleaner water. The reason is that contaminants such as motor oil, antifreeze and brake pad dust on parking lots and material found on roofs runs off into storm sewers during rains, Weliver said in an earlier interview.

That material either clogs drains causing street flooding or it washes downstream. By charging fees and offering credits, many property owners are motivated to reclaim water instead of letting it run off into storm sewers. The reclaimed water then is used for gardening or other purposes. When rain water is absorbed into the soil, a natural filtration process takes place, Weliver said.

Last year the city’s storm water utility board, which was formed in June, presented the city council with a budget of $900,000 per year based on one city consultant’s estimate of the cost of an MS4 program.

Thursday night, that proposal drew response from three city council members. Councilman George Parker said the proposal contained a dream list and said, “That is a huge burden to place on businesses here in town. They are having huge struggles to keep people employed.”

Councilwoman Heather Perkins suggested ways be found to reduce the amount of the proposal by using city employees instead of hiring more people.

“It is irresponsible to say we should hire five new employees when we don’t know if we can keep all the employees we already have,” Perkins said, explaining that city budget cuts in 2010 may require the elimination of some jobs by the city.

That thought was echoed by Parker and Councilman Dennis Cook.

“I beseech you to look at all options,” Perkins said.

Storm Water Utility Board member Jim Swift said, “I’m in favor of protecting other jobs if we can do what needs to be done.”

What needs to be done is to fulfill the requirements of the MS4 program, Weliver said.

“The main reason we are doing this is because it’s federal law,” said Jerry Whalen, utility board president.

Heritage Products Plant Manager Dave Lancaster asked if his company’s exemption from IDEM storm water reporting would entitle it to a credit. Board members thought it would. Scott Schutte, an engineer representing Acuity Lighting, said Plainfield uses street department employees to keep storm sewers clean.

Other industries represented at the meeting included Random House and R. R. Donnelley. Crawfordsville Square Shopping Center’s Lynn Eddington was the only person who spoke representing retail merchants.

“I encourage you to reevaluate, to do due diligence before setting rates,” she said, adding that a storm water rate will affect decisions of retail stores thinking about locating in Crawfordsville.

Rates may be based on a flat rate for residences and the flat rate plus equivalent residential units (ERU) for business and industry. The ERU is based on an average of 3,960 square feet of impervious area (roofs, driveways, sidewalks) found in the average Crawfordsville residence. Businesses and industries may pay rates based on multiples of the average residential impervious area (the same thing as ERUs.)

It is not known how much residential property owners will be charged, but to reach the $900,000 per year revenue level the monthly charge will have to be $8.25 per month, according to H. J. Umbaugh & Associates, the company that is conducting a rate fee study for the utility board.