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A storm of regulations

Department of Ecology revises Construction Stormwater General Permit; builders say small lots are getting too expensive

Washington has some of the most strict stormwater regulations in the country, and for small builders, the reigns are getting tighter.

The state Department of Ecology will implement changes to its Construction Stormwater General Permit in December. Major changes affecting builders and developers include requiring a permit for projects between one and five acres and the required use of a certified soil erosion and sediment control specialist.

"By changing the size (from five acres to one acre), its going to improve the amount of coverage … we are able to get from the permit," said DOE spokesman Glenn Kuper. "There were a lot of construction projects around the state that we were not able to monitor and those sites were significant contributors of stormwater pollution."

Previously, clearing, excavating and grading were allowed on land of less than five acres without a DOE stormwater permit. Obtaining a permit requires the development of a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan, which must define how a site will be managed to control erosion and limit sediment flowing into state waters. By October 2006, a certified soil erosion and sediment control specialist will be required as part of the SWPPP. Two-day certification training can cost about $600, otherwise, builders would have to hire an out-of-house engineer.

"It’s going to cost small builders a lot of money to do these kinds of things," said Mark Musser, Building Industry Association of Washington soil erosion specialist.

Rex Pruitt, president of homebuilder Hermitage Inc., said stormwater regulations are getting "to the point where it is ridiculous." While cost varies depending on soil and location, Pruitt pointed to a one-acre, five-lot development currently underway that is costing his company about $15,000 per lot to implement stormwater pollution prevention. He said it’s the most expensive part of the platting process, and it slows building and adds to the cost of a home.

"It drives up the price of the lot substantially," said Pruitt. "It’s very difficult to develop a small piece of property and make it worthwhile."

According to the Department of Ecology, stormwater is rain or snow melt that runs off surfaces such as rooftops, paved streets, highways, parking lots and lawns. Urban development causes changes in patterns of stormwater flow from land into receiving waters. Increased surface runoff flows cause stream channel changes that destroy habitat for fish, and water quality can be harmed when runoff carries pollutants such as eroded soil, oil, metals or pesticides into streams, wetlands, lakes and marine waters or into ground water.

Stormwater management can help to reduce these effects and involves careful application of site design principles, construction techniques to prevent erosion and the discharge of sediments and other pollutants, source controls to keep pollutants out of stormwater, flow control facilities to reduce discharge flow rates and treatment facilities to reduce pollutants.

"Primarily it is going to help to make sure bodies of water in the areas of construction are kept cleaner," said Kuper. "Stormwater runoff oftentimes contributes significantly to water quality problems, by having these requirements we are hoping to protect some vulnerable bodies of water and do that by having a broader coverage."

Musser said the DOE is attempting to cover jurisdictions that do not have coverage, but he says there are few that don’t.

"We don’t have confidence it will make much of a difference as far as pollution is concerned," said Musser. "They are going to do a lot of work without getting results."

Musser said many of the state regulations are already covered by local jurisdictions.

"Critical areas have already been set aside." he said. "Red flags go up already with construction near a critical area."

Pruitt said county inspections are already pretty stringent and the DOE stormwater permit is redundant and adds costs. Hermitage is working on a 33-lot subdivision in Hazel Dell, and even though precautions mandated by the DOE were already taken to comply with local regulations, a time and cost delay was incurred to obtain a state permit.

Kuper said the general permit was designed to minimize costs for smaller builders by requiring less monitoring and testing and reducing the amount of equipment necessary for smaller, less complex sites.

"I think the requirements will be pretty manageable, and we are going to try to do as much education as possible," he said. "There are a lot of new permitees who will be covered. We will educate and work with these businesses so they understand what they are going to have to do and help them transition into the process."

Kuper said the DOE is prepared to handle a larger number of incoming permit requests and most inspections are complaint driven. The goal is to help businesses comply, he said, and penalty is a last resort if there is a repeated pattern or willful disregard for the requirement.

"We have tried hard to work with both sides to come up with a permit that balances all the competing interests," said Kuper. "We feel like we have done that and that this will be a positive step forward in protecting the environment, and we are willing to work with the businesses and the construction industry to make this as painless as possible."

Sidebar

The Construction Stormwater General Permit requires:
• An application (Notice of Intent).
• The preparation and implementation of a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan that describes stormwater best management practices to prevent erosion and sedimentation and protect water quality.
• Permitees to conduct periodic site inspections to ensure that best management practices are properly installed and maintained. Inspections must be conducted by qualified personnel, and be documented in a site log book.
• Permitees to monitor stormwater discharges for turbidity/transparency; and if the project includes significant concrete work or engineered soils, pH monitoring is also required. In addition, the permit requires monitoring for other pollutants if there is a discharge to certain types of impaired water bodies or water bodies with a total daily maximum load.
• Permitees to submit Discharge Monitoring Reports to document compliance with the numeric and narrative effluent limitations, and demonstrate SWPPP performance
• Permitees to submit any documentation required by this permit to Department of Ecology or the public upon request.
• Permitees to ensure that their project does not cause or contribute to violations of state water quality standards.

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