U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser is calling for the suspension of a new stormwater fee until more clarity is provided to Wyoming Valley area property owners who must pay it.
“This is a serious and urgent matter for the constituents of my district, and I plan to continue to seek answers until these fees are explained and municipalities and the people understand how they can be reduced,” Meuser said in a release.
According to a letter sent to state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell, Meuser, R-Dallas, said his constituents have “shared their understandable alarm that they face new and sudden fees that could reach into the thousands as a result of the implementation of these regulations.”
The financial hardship may be “unbearable for many taxpayers,” Meuser wrote, describing an instance of a Dallas farm owner facing a $1,400 annual stormwater bill.
The controversial fee was triggered by pollution reduction requirements in municipalities requiring MS4 (municipal separate storm sewer system) permits because they have both urbanized areas determined by U.S. Census data and separate storm sewer systems.
Separate storm systems mean stormwater is not mixed with wastewater, and thus is discharged directly into waterways without first being treated.
Thirty-two local municipalities have opted to meet mandate requirements by participating in a regional plan managed by the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority, which has imposed a fee to cover compliance expenses. These municipalities must reduce sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus washed into the Susquehanna River, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay, over the next five years.
DEP issues and enforces the MS4 permits in compliance with federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. Fines are possible if municipalities don’t meet requirements, DEP has said.
Questions for DEP
Because DEP shares jurisdiction with the EPA in this issue, Meuser requested a meeting with the state agency to learn more about its enforcement duties and procedures.
In his letter, Meuser cited the following issues he wants to discuss:
• DEP received authority to implement the Clean Water Act in lieu of the EPA. How do the minimum MS4 requirements set by DEP compare to baseline standards set by the EPA? Is DEP enforcing stormwater management regulations more aggressively than the EPA?
• Is there a way for property owners suddenly facing significant fees to work with the appropriate agencies to “devise a fair, manageable payment structure?”
• Once fee-funded MS4 compliance projects are completed, will residents stop paying the fee?
• How will records be kept to “ensure appropriate, efficient use of taxpayer dollars?”
• Can those involved help “facilitate dialogue” with EPA at the regional and administrative levels?
Meuser said the fee should be halted until these questions are answered.
His office staffers have spoken to dozens of constituents “expressing confusion, frustration and the need for transparency,” Meuser wrote.
“Residents should not be expected to finance an unfunded mandate without a clear understanding of how the fees are calculated, what accountability measures are in place, and what, exactly, spurred the creation of these unexpected fees,” he wrote.
Colleen Connolly, DEP community relations coordinator, said Thursday the department has received Meuser’s letter and is reviewing it. She also added that DEP has no regulatory control over the authority’s fees.
Authority representatives have said they must proceed because they were denied a compliance extension.
Due to a public outcry, the authority has delayed the fee payment due date to March 15, eliminated all appeal fees for those contesting the authority’s calculations, increased some bill discounts and reduced the charge for properties with 7,000 square feet or more of nonabsorbent impervious area, or IA.
Meuser’s staff had announced his plans to get involved during the authority’s Jan. 31 public information meeting, which drew around 70 property owners to the authority’s treatment plant meeting room in Hanover Township.
DEP staffer Paul Grella answered numerous questions during this meeting.
Meuser and his staff met with EPA Region III Administrator Cosmo Servidio and other senior agency leaders this week to share the frustrations of his constituents and attempt to understand how so many residents could be “blindsided” by the new fee, his office said in a release. A representative of the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay office also attended this meeting, it said.
The EPA expressed a commitment to visit Pennsylvania in the near future to explain “how the costs were derived and what can be done to reduce them,” the release stated.