House Panel Approves Stormwater Rules for NC Towns, Counties

Wed August 04, 2004 - Southeast Edition

RALEIGH, NC (AP) A House committee on July 7 approved temporary stormwater pollution regulations that would apply to more than 120 municipalities and 30 counties, overriding legislators’ complaints that the rules are too narrow.

The Senate already has passed the bill, which attempts to put the local governments in compliance with federal stormwater rules that are designed to keep polluted stormwater from running into streams and rivers.

The measure resulted from months of negotiations with environmentalists, the home-construction industry and cities and counties. Supporters acknowledge it isn’t perfect, but say it’s the best that can be achieved now. If a law isn’t passed, local governments are in danger of being found to be out of compliance with federal regulations.

“This is about as good as we’re going to get in the last days of the session,” said Rep. Pyror Gibson, D-Montgomery, the co-chairman of the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee, which approved the bill. The measure now goes to the full House for consideration.

But conservationists are worried that the rules do not apply to some areas that are likely to quickly develop over the next decade. Some legislators pointed to eastern Chatham County, between Jordan Lake and Cary, as a fast-growing area that would not be covered by the new rules.

“It doesn’t smell right if the No. 1 growing county in the Triangle wouldn’t be covered,” said Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham. “Everyone in the Triangle knows that Chatham County is where it’s at.”

For more than a decade, a half-dozen of the state’s largest cities have had to comply with federal stormwater rules.

In 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency began requiring new regulations for small- and medium-sized communities. Last year, the state Environmental Management Commission adopted rules that would have forced 123 municipalities and 33 counties to start new stormwater programs.

Stormwater would have to be contained in structures such as settling ponds in areas where construction disturbs an acre or more or where certain building densities are exceeded. The rules also require 30-ft. (9.1 m) buffer zones around waterways.

The Legislature got involved when the state’s Rules Review Commission invalidated the new regulations earlier this year, saying the environmental commission had exceeded its authority and that the rules were too confusing.

The EMC has sued the Rules Review Commission, asking a judge to impose its stormwater rules. As that court fight plays out, the General Assembly’s bill would put temporary requirements in place through 2011.

Supporters include the North Carolina League of Municipalities, N.C. Association of County Commissioners and N.C. Home Builders Association.

“It creates certainty in the process and it creates flexibility,” said Tim Minton, a lobbyist for the home builders group.

Environmentalists are concerned that formulas used in the rules would make large sections of some counties exempt from the new regulations.