Municipal leaders are gearing up for a fight over how often they clean their storm drains and catch basins and track illicit discharges that end up polluting Connecticut’s rivers and streams.
At a press conference in Cromwell Tuesday, mayors, first selectmen, and town managers said the state is creating another “unfunded mandate” that will cost them millions of dollars.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities said the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s draft permit to regulate this runoff from municipal streets will cost 80 cities and towns nearly $82 million.
The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said it is enforcing the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act, which mandates the permit.
However, municipal leaders say the state’s draft permit goes beyond what’s mandated by the federal government and extends the federal law to smaller rural towns like Killingworth.
Killingworth First Selectwoman Catherine Iino said the permit would cost her small town, with a population of about 6,500, about $1.2 million for new equipment and more than $100,000 annually. It also would require her to increase the local highway budget by 12 percent.
But “it’s not all about the money,” Iino said. “Among other things our town would be required to begin leaf collection. Have you been to Killingworth? We’re pretty much one big forest.”
DEEP acknowledged that the draft permit would be applied to smaller, less densely populated towns than federal law requires.
“While federal law does not require the same standards for communities with less population density, we believe it is important to extend improved storm water management practices to them,” a spokesman with DEEP said. “This will help improve the condition of many impaired water bodies in rural areas and protect the condition of others that are in better condition.”
DEEP said it understands the fiscal constraints facing communities and hopes they can address that in the final version.
A public hearing on the permit will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at DEEP headquarters, 79 Elm St., Hartford.
On the other side of the argument, environmentalists like Roger Reynolds, legal counsel with the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, don’t believe the draft permit goes far enough in regulating the pollutants that end up in Connecticut’s waterways.
“Keeping water clean is not an unfunded mandate,” Reynolds said Monday.
In a document submitted to DEEP, Reynolds argues that the permit does not meet the requirements for the maximum amount of control over illicit discharges and fails to adequately address the “Total Maximum Daily Load.”
“If the municipalities don’t think these provisions are going to work, then it’s their responsibility to determine what will,” Reynolds said. “There’s a lot of talk about costs but a lot of their regions have done storm water authorities to raise money to pay for this.”
He said there’s also a way to come up with a formula for the biggest polluters in town and to get them to foot the bill. He said municipalities shouldn’t dismiss these regulations based on the condition of Connecticut’s bodies of water.
DEEP reports that more than 50 percent of the waters it monitors are not clean enough to support recreation and fishing. It concluded that the primary reason for this poor quality is stormwater runoff.
But that’s not how local municipal officials see the issue.
“Once again, we have a runaway state agency that sort of just is out there all on its own deciding to implement new regulations to us that will cost the City of Danbury $5 million to implement,” Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said. “And frankly our taxpayers have had enough. They can’t afford this kind of overregulation.”
He said this permit as written would require his Public Works Department to street sweep eight times a year, when the state of Connecticut doesn’t take care of its own highways through Danbury.
Boughton said the state always seems to blame the federal government, “yet when you compare what’s required of other states across our country, they have vastly different permits, vastly different standards that meet the requirements of the EPA.”
South Windsor Town Manager and CCM President Matt Galligan said he thinks the state should hire additional employees at the DEEP and have them go out and “do your stormwater prevention.”
But he said with the state projecting a budget deficit, that’s not going to happen. Instead, “they’re putting it on the backs of municipalities to spend the money and do the things that you’re supposed to be doing on a state level.”
Galligan said he would rather see taxes increased at the state level than the local level to fund this initiative.
Asked if he would support it if the state found a way to pay for it, Galligan said he doesn’t trust that the money would be there beyond one year.