WILKES-BARRE — A new area effort at stormwater management includes a new fee — estimated at up to $4.50 a month on average — for property owners in 32 municipalities on or near the Susquehanna River, according to preliminary plans announced Tuesday. The project will be overseen by the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority.
Officials unveiling the “regional stormwater management plan” stressed it will actually save money — $57 million over the first five years — by letting each municipality meet federal mandates through collective, large-scale projects rather than going it alone on smaller jobs.
The plan also returns some of the money collected — estimated at about $8 million total the first year — to participating municipalities, and sets up a reserve to pay for up to half the cost of smaller projects municipalities decide to do on their own.
“Decades of neglect have dimmed our ability to fully enjoy the river that runs through our community,” authority solicitor Bill Finnegan said while standing on the River Common with the Susquehanna — as well as local and state officials — behind him. The plan will reduce pollutants entering the river from stormwater runoff, a reduction required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Specifically, from 2018 to 2022, municipalities are required to reduce the presence of three pollutants in stormwater running into waterways: sediment by 10 percent, phosphorus by 5 percent and nitrogen by 3 percent.
Failure to meet state stormwater mandates has already resulted in fines for some local municipalities.
By joining together, much of the reduction can likely be done through one project, according to Adrienne Vicari, an engineer with Herbert, Rowland and Grubic Inc., a firm working with the sanitary authority. Vicari said implementing “Best Management Practices” along the levee system maintained by the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority could result in 70 percent of the required reductions.
Many of the details have yet to be worked out. Finnegan said a flyover of the municipalities with detailed pictures taken after the leaves fall off trees will be central in setting the new fee. This should provide a detailed idea of how much of each property is covered with surfaces impervious to water; the more impervious surface, the greater the stormwater runoff.
Finnegan said the sanitary authority had checked if flyover photos taken by Luzerne County could be used, but those pictures weren’t detailed enough for this purpose.
An average household “Equivalent Runoff Unit” will be determined based on a review of those images, and a per-ERU rate will be established — expected to be $3 to $4.50 a month. The fee will be set in tiers so it will be lower for smaller properties with less impervious surface area and higher for large properties with more impervious surface.
Praise from DEP boss
The plan calls for a possible reduction of a property’s fee if the owner takes steps to decrease runoff amounts. Businesses will either get charged by the number of ERUs they have, or possibly by square foot, Finnegan said.
Specific reduction projects are similarly undetermined until all the pieces start coming together. But the state has a best practices list that includes items like reduced parking-space size to reduce impervious surfaces and constructing storm basins filled with vegetation that filters pollutants out of the water before it reaches the river.
The plan also calls for development of up to four regional stormwater parks, which would filter runoff while providing recreation, environmental education, and wildlife support.
While the fee could, theoretically, be eliminated once the current reduction requirements are met, Finnegan said that past experience suggests other regulations will pop up, making the fee likely useful later. Even if that weren’t the case, the money can be used for other regional projects to improve water quality and meet other mandates, including a costly push to reduce periodic sewage runoff into the Susquehanna when heavy storms overwhelm the sewer system.
Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell praised the local project, saying he hopes it will become a model used throughout the state.
“Stormwater certainly doesn’t follow any municipal boundaries,” McDonnell said. “The solution shouldn’t either.”