October 2019 Updates
The MS4 Stormwater Fee is a controversial issue. The Supervisors want our residents to have all the facts leading up to their decision to join with other communities to comply and how and why our property owners will no longer will be burdened with the cost.
The Township has been required to have an MS4 Permit for years. The permit is administered by DEP. According to the EPA, the term MS4 does not solely refer to municipally-owned underground pipes that make up storm sewer systems. It has a much broader application that includes roads with cross pipes, gutters, and ditches. Even though we were able to comply with the permit, beginning in 2014 we made several inquiries to DEP regarding an MS4 permit waiver. Since there was an impaired stream in the Township and two urbanized areas as defined by the Census Bureau, we did not qualify. As a result of a lawsuit filed against the EPA by the Chesapeake Bay Commission, the requirements to comply became more stringent in 2016. We were now mandated to reduce nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment stormwater runoff by 10% over the next five years. It’s estimated that the Township’s cost to comply would exceed $700,000 in the first year alone and would grow to over $3,000,000 by the end of year five. Once again, we made inquiry to DEP regarding a waiver and were told that we still didn’t qualify.
In 2016 we began discussions with thirty-one other municipalities to form a regional joint municipal agreement authorizing WVSA to manage all thirty-two MS4 permits. Work completed to comply within any of the communities would be credited to the MS4 permits of all thirty-two. We made the decision to join because the cost to our residents would be significantly less than if we tried to go it alone. While at the Township Convention in Hershey we spoke with Townships out of our area that were already involved. Based on experience, their advice was to go regional if at all possible. When regulations are handed down, the rule of law says we have to abide. Since this was the most economical way to go for our residents, we had no choice and we signed the agreement in July of 2017.
When everyone began getting their stormwater fee bills, we were shocked to find out that many were charged more than we expected. We immediately contacted WVSA and questioned the inequality of the bills. We found out that they were calculated based on the impervious area on each property. We contacted our engineer and asked him to once again research the possibility of getting an MS4 permit waiver. He discovered that the DEP map designating impaired streams had been revised and the one in Lehman Township was no longer impaired. Based on that information, we filed a formal waiver application with DEP and were granted a five-year waiver in March of 2019
The Board of Supervisors then authorized Dave Sutton, our chairman and Jack Haley, our attorney to begin negotiations with WVSA to withdraw from the agreement. Since there was no method in the agreement to withdraw, we had two choices. We could file a lawsuit and go to court or work out an agreement so our residents would no longer have to pay a fee. Going to court would be very costly, would probably take years to settle and even though we believed we had a good case there was no guarantee that we would win. If we did win, and failed in getting another waiver after five years we would be back complying with the mandate on our own at unaffordable costs to our residents.
After six months of negotiations, Dave and Jack presented an agreement to the Supervisors making us a non-permit member of the regional group. Our residents would no longer be charged, and everyone would receive a refund for all payments made. That agreement was approved by the Township on September 16, 2019 and by WVSA on September 17, 2019. Many of you may have already received your refund before reading this article.
As part of the original agreement the Township is responsible to pay its share of the startup costs of the entire program including work WVSA already completed in Lehman. Instead of paying it all at once, WVSA agreed to payments of $28,000 per year for five years. After five years, if we get another waiver, we will only be required to pay our share of the administration costs. We expect that cost to be in the range of about $11,000 per year. That’s $16 per year for five years and $6 per year thereafter per property. That’s far less than our residents were being charged. A new truck budgeted for this year will not be available until next year. As a result of that savings plus removing all costs associated with the MS4 permit, the Township is able to make the payments. There will not be any reduction in services or tax increases as a result.
Now that no one has to pay for at least the next five years, the Supervisors are directing their attention toward either removing the regulation or, at least leveling the playing field to minimizing the cost. If it has to stay, funding should be by the State or Federal Government. Dave Sutton recently attended a meeting with Congressman Meuser, Senator Baker, Representative Boback, EPA and DEP and presented the problems faced by our residents to the group. He will continue to work with them to resolve this unfunded mandate.
Thank you for your patience and understanding while we continue to work through this difficult issue.
Links to Stormwater Information
PA Dept. of Environmental Protection
Water Cycle Vocabulary
We would like to thank Mariah from Friends of Atwater Environmental Club who found and shared this excellent resource with us! Water Cycle Glossary of Terms
Water Pollution: How humans impact the Water Cycle
We would like to thank Amelia, student of Carol Briggs at Kellytown.org, who sent this resource to us during a virtual education project on water conservation and the water cycle!
Polluted Runoff: Nonpoint Source (NPS) Pollution
Center for Watershed Protection
Luzerne County Conservation District (LCCD)
Other Useful Links:
Pennsylvania Stormwater Best Management Practices Manual
Coming Soon (these can currently be viewed at our office only):
Lehman Township MS4 Annual Report MCM-2
Lehman Township MS4 Annual Report MCM-3
Lehman Township MS4 Annual Report CBPRP
Lehman Township CBPRP Map 2015