An Op-Ed Response -- Chesapeake Bay Foundation: New stormwater rules won't increase costs

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Editor's Note: The Chesapeake Bay Federation contacted Center Maryland and asked for an opportunity to respond to recent opinion pieces published on the state's proposed new stormwater regulations.

By Kim Coble

We interrupt the sky-is-falling rhetoric on the state’s new stormwater regulations for a few facts.

The new rules will most likely reduce costs for many builders. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates 15-80 percent lower capital costs when builders use low-impact stormwater strategies similar to those required in the new state regulations. The agency arrived at those figures after evaluating 17 different case studies. Even in redevelopment settings, stormwater management does not have to raise costs, especially when several options are included as alternatives for meeting the state’s requirement in the regulations as they currently exist.

It is incorrect to say these regulations will cause costs to go up. Everyone needs to keep this fact in mind when they hear unsubstantiated cost estimates for stormwater management quoted by builders – who are attempting to weaken the state’s new rules through the legislative process.

An equally important fact: if builders don’t properly treat stormwater from their development and redevelopment sites, taxpayers will have to pick up the tab of treating it as it heads into their local rivers. New federal initiatives will require states to reduce Bay pollution, and the fact is that if one group shirks its responsibilities, others will have to shoulder that debt.

The fact of the matter is that development has been dramatically changing our landscape for decades. Between 1990 and 2000 alone, our region’s population grew by 8%, but the amount of land paved or covered with buildings and concrete increased by 41%. All those hard surfaces have created the stormwater pollution problem we face today. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency Chesapeake Bay Program, urban and suburban development is the ONLY source of nutrient and sediment pollution that is increasing. There is no doubt that the development industry has profited from growth in Maryland, but there is also no doubt development has harmed local creeks, rivers and the Bay.

Some developers have tried to blame other types of pollution as culprits in the Bay’s pollution, arguing that their own impact is minimal. Their logic: the amount of land paved over each year pales in comparison to the entire 64,000 square mile watershed. This is a specious argument and is not unlike trying to minimize the impact of agriculture over the years by only looking at the new farms that started production in one year alone.

Here are some other facts often overlooked in the rhetorical debate:

• Other jurisdictions, including Montgomery County and Philadelphia, have been meeting similar standards for stormwater management with no ill effects to builders or localities. Even in high density urban areas, higher standards of treatment have not created an exodus of development to the farm fields.
• All regulations require implementation flexibility; we stand firm with the development community in demanding clarity, flexibility, and attention to site-specific details especially in these first several months of implementation. But we should NOT and can NOT preempt regulatory improvements out of fear, or uncertainty.
• These new rules can help create jobs. These regulations follow a national trend – using “green infrastructure” technologies, instead of outdated structural practices. Requiring these practices in Maryland will boost employment of landscape architects, site designers, engineers and others.

The new rules benefit everyone – builders and the real estate industry, and everyone who is tired of stinky fish kills, endangered crab populations, and concrete dead zones stretching for miles over our landscape.

Legislators should not allow themselves to be scared by unsubstantiated predictions of doom. The Stormwater Management Act of 2007 they passed is the basis of these regulations, and reflects a necessary, yet modest improvement from the status quo. It is not a radical departure and in fact, was supported by the development community.

We must put the rhetoric aside and think about the dollars we will continue to hemorrhage in the Chesapeake region from decimated fisheries, lost tourism dollars, property flooding, sediment-clogged waterways, and the toll of continued finger-pointing for the Chesapeake’s water quality shortcomings. Everyone, including the development community – needs to acknowledge their decades of free passes and step up to the plate to help correct the course.

Kim Coble is Maryland Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Here are opinion pieces on stormwater regulations previously published by Center Maryland:

Builders: Are Jobs Really a Priority?

VIDEO: Jim Smith on stormwater regulations

A threat to Smart Growth
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