Debate heats up over proposed storm water runoff regulations

By Heather Sullivan - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board will vote next Monday, October 5, on proposed storm water regulations for home and commercial building sites.

The changes are meant to reduce pollution in rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. But many builders and business leaders say these requirements are just too expensive and will slow economic growth.

Storm water runoff is the water that runs off a home or commercial building site. It can carry pollutants, such as oil, phosphorus, and nitrogen, into bodies of water. The Department of Conservation and Recreation says reducing storm water runoff is imperative.

Said Joe Maroon, DCR Director, "About 25 years ago, urban and suburban runoff made up about 5 percent of the pollution loading to the Chesapeake Bay. In 2005, 30 years later, it contributed 30 percent."

But many builders and business leaders say proposed regulations to reduce runoff, such as more silt basins, will require buying extra land and hinder economic growth.

"None of us are against having cleaner water in the bay," said David Owen, President of Boone Homes, Inc. "But it's going to increase the cost of housing, it's going to increase the cost of all development, commercial, whether they're building a high school or an elementary school."

The DCR responded to those concerns by proposing five alternatives to help developers meet requirements. Director Joe Maroon says Virginia Tech study shows costs will only go up as much as $6,000 per lot.

Said Maroon, "We're hearing developers and engineers now say they have been employing a number of these techniques on their sites and they have been able to do so at reduced cost. One of them had a recent study that showed they saved $65,000 just on the parking lot alone."

But many builders say the DCR is significantly underestimating costs and says the DCR's studies into allowable phosphorous in the Bay is not correct. Explains Barrett Hardiman, Director of Regulatory Affairs for the Home Builders Association of Virginia, "We can take the numbers DCR has used to calculate the .28 standard and show you that they have miscalculated where we should be, because they're not including everything in there that they should."

If passed, these regulations are dated to take effect in July 2010. But DCR says that will be delayed because localities will have to adopt them. Meanwhile, opponents say they may ask the state legislature to intervene and take up the issue. That means it's likely to be a while before any changes are made.

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