Towns see high costs for NJ stormwater rules

Regulations will bring improvements, but it won’t come cheap, officials say.

By: David Campbell
   Local officials say the McGreevey administration’s new stormwater rules will require significantly tougher municipal water-quality regulations and practices — but the improvements won’t come cheap, officials say.
   "This is huge; it’s a big-scale rule that has wide-ranging consequences on every development site statewide," said George Hawkins, executive director of Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association. "Virtually every new development will be different because of this new rule. But some municipalities have been worried about this, not necessarily because of the content, but because of cost."
   One of the most notable provisions under the new rules, which Gov. James McGreevey unveiled last week and go into effect next month, minimizes development within 300 feet of more than 6,000 miles of high-quality waterways.
   The sweeping set of new rules also call on municipalities to adopt a series of stormwater ordinances and develop stormwater-management plans.
   Municipalities will have to apply to the state for stormwater-discharge permits for pavement runoff just as industrial facilities are required to do for discharging pollutants. To qualify for permits, municipalities will have to map the discharges of their stormwater systems and upgrade and retrofit the existing storm-drain infrastructure.
   Developments under the new rules will have to minimize runoff into nearby storm sewers and water bodies.
   "They’re probably the most far-reaching environmental regulations to come down from the state," said Princeton Township Engineer Robert Kiser.
   The state rules also have provisions for public education by municipalities, and require stricter water-quality standards for municipal public works and other departments, Mr. Kiser said.
   For example, municipal vehicles as well as fire trucks and ambulances will no longer be allowed to be washed on the pavement outside the garage. They either will have to be taken to a car wash, or the township will have to construct a facility that recycles the runoff, the township engineer said.
   An upside is that municipalities will be allowed several years by the state to comply with many of the new rules, but a downside will be costs associated with the stricter standards.
   "It’s going to be costly," Mr. Kiser said. "Every municipality in the state is going to feel the impacts. Many municipalities have said that since this is a state mandate, the state should pay."
   West Windsor Township Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh said his municipality already has strict water-quality rules, but he foresees little difficulty in complying with the new state standards where needed.
   While compliance by future development isn’t a concern, Mayor Hsueh continued, he said he worries where the money will come from to retrofit existing developments that currently don’t comply.
   "It’s going to cost a lot of money, and given the economy, I don’t know if it’s realistic," the mayor said. "It’s going to have serious impacts on the property tax."
   Maintenance costs will also be high under the new rules, said Mayor Hsueh. West Windsor has an ordinance requiring developers to contribute to a trust fund for future maintenance of stormwater-management infrastructure, but many towns do not, he said.
   "Water does not recognize political boundaries," Mayor Hsueh said. "I think it’s going to create problems in the future. It’s important for the state to have a good water-quality program, but if we’re going to do it, let’s do it right."
   Don Johnson, consulting engineer for Montgomery Township, said the new rules will have a positive impact on water resources in the state, but noted that Montgomery already has "stiff" stormwater regulations in place, in many cases tougher than the new requirements, he said.
   The downside, however, will be the cost to implement many of the new rules, Mr. Johnson said.
   "These regulations came out without any funding in place," he said.