Our view: Convince us of value of stormwater fee

July 22nd, 2017 11:45 am

They touted it as savings — to the tune of $57 million in the first five years. But it’s not like you will spend less because of the new regional stormwater management project announced in Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday.

Quite the contrary, this is an additional cost for living in any of 32 municipalities that have joined the project, to be spearheaded by the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority. If you own property, you can expect to pay an estimated average of $3 to $4.50 per month.

The more concrete and stone you have covering the ground, the more you may have to pay. The more you redirect rain water away from storm drains and keep it from leaving your property, the lower your fee could be.

This is intended to raise money to meet a limited federal/state mandate — specifically, to pay for things that will reduce pollutants from getting washed off your property and into the rivers and streams in rainstorms. But only a fool would bet the fees end when those mandates are met.

The “savings” touted when the project was announced come from having all those municipalities band together. The assumption is that it would cost more — $57 million more — if each municipality went it alone, trying to meet the mandates just for its turf.

The assumption is almost certainly right. This is a case where the economy of scale should pay big dividends. The municipalities involved range in population from Yatesville (607) to Wilkes-Barre (41, 498) yet combined they are home to 172,052 people.

If the consortium can meet the mandates with a handful of projects, that almost has to cost less than doing 32 or more individual projects.

Regionalization makes perfect sense. As state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell rightly pointed out, “Stormwater certainly doesn’t follow any municipal boundaries. The solution shouldn’t either.”

So the arguments for this joint effort to meet mandates are pretty solid. The real question: Do the mandates make sense? Are the pollutants being removed from stormwater worth the financial burden?

To be clear, at least two local municipalities have already faced fines for failing to meet such clean-water mandates, so if avoiding fines counts, the answer is probably yes.

As to the risk to our water supply justifying the cost of this project, it is up to scientists — and the government officials pushing these mandates — to convince us. There wasn’t much convincing along those lines at the media event announcing the fee.

We can’t live without clean water, so they get an initial benefit of the doubt. And the plan feels, at first blush, reasonable, if indeed people can lower payments by controlling runoff from their property.

But calling it a fee instead of a tax doesn’t change the simple fact: It is additional financial burden in an area where many property owners feel burdened enough.

The fee is set to begin next summer at the earliest. The conversation has started. Convince us.