Senators learn local impact of stormwater fees

Shawn Hardy news@echo-pilot.com
Brian Harbaugh, president of Precision Manufacturing & Engineering in Greencastle, testifies before the Pennsylvania Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee during a Sept. 11 hearing held at Antrim Brethren in Christ Church concerning the impact of MS4 (municipal separate storm sewer system) fees. SHAWN HARDY/ECHO PILOT

Greencastle's new stormwater management fee is $14,000 a year for Precision Manufacturing & Engineering.

President Brian Harbaugh also is expecting to pay $2,000 a year when Antrim Township's proposed fee goes into effect next year. Plus, the $47,000 the Greencastle-Antrim School District has to pay to the borough will be passed along to property owners, he testified Sept. 11 before the Pennsylvania Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee during a hearing at Antrim Brethren in Christ Church.

He gave lawmakers a visual representation of the fee's impact by having his 18 employees rise in the audience.

When businesses like the one he and his wife, Stephanie, own are hit with additional fees, "Unfortunately, these are the people it directly affects."

He noted there is less money for wage increases, 401k contributions, health benefits, year-end bonuses and tools and supplies.

"We understand you concerns, you made them real today," said state Sen. Judy Ward, a Republican whose district includes Greencastle and Antrim Township. She asked Sen. Gene Yaw, committee chairman, and Sen. John Yudichak, minority chair, to hold the hearing because of concerns from local government officials, who are imposing the fees to meet MS4 (municipal separate storm sewer system) permit regulations and Chesapeake Bay cleanup requirements. Also on hand were state Rep. Paul Schemel, a Republican whose district includes Greencastle and Antrim Township, and Rep. Dan Moul, a Republican from Adams County.

The cost for Greencastle to meet sediment reduction requirements is around $2 million over five years, while it is $2.8 million for Antrim Township. The two municipalities are looking at a joint streambank restoration project, but among their concerns are whether there is real data to back up the effectiveness of such a project and the large percentage of the money that goes to legal and engineering fees as well as the higher costs associated with prevailing wage.

Some specifically asked to put the brakes on the permit requirements.

In addition to Harbaugh, representatives of the Borough of Greencastle, Antrim Township, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and Blair County municipalities offered verbal testimony before an audience of about 200. Others provided their comments in writing. The hearing and other information is posted on the websites for Ward and Yaw:



What's next 

Yaw said more hearings are possible and he planned to talk about what he heard at the hearing over the weekend with the secretary of DEP during Chesapeake Bay meetings in Gettysburg over the weekend.

"I don't know if we'll be able to put the brakes on," Yaw said after the hearing, but noted the "honest concerns" brought out in the testimony.

"Fragmented" is how he described the cleanup effort and said he is not sure efforts are being coordinated to get the best result for money municipalities are looking to expend.

"I'm afraid we're spending a lot of money on a small part of the problem," Yaw said early in the hearing. "MS4 has taken on a life of its own."

Will it work 

Water testing to ensure the effectiveness of the proposed streambank restoration to reduce the amount of sediment required under the MS4 permits was one issue brought out at the hearing.

"We cannot show progress if we don't know what the baseline is," said Sylvia House, Antrim Township zoning and code enforcement officer, asking whether millions will be spent only to get to the end and fail.

"Municipalities are told that we have impaired streams. Sampling data from the streams are not shared with us. Instead, we are using formulas and modeling software programs to give us assumed data," according to House.

She asked that the program be put on hold until water samples are available to show "the money we expend counts for something."

"Your comments are right on," Ward said. "If we're going to ask taxpayers for more money, we have to have real data."

Steve Taglang, acting director for DEP's bureau of clean water, explained while specific water locations are not tested, DEP has a model to show how sediment reduction should work.

"Where is the sampling?" asked Eden Ratliff, Greencastle borough manager, pointing out there is sampling at the borough's water and sewer treatment plants. "What if I called DEP and said, 'It's working. We don't need to sample, we have models.'"

 Some testimony  

Samples of the oral and written testimony included:

  • Ben Thomas Jr., Greencastle mayor and manager of Cumberland Township in Adams County, called MS4 and the Chesapeake Bay cleanup the largest unfunded mandate he has ever experienced during decades in municipal government.

He urged a common sense approach and suggested a program that would allow municipalities to provide funding directly to property owners for best management practices without the extra costs of lawyers, engineers and prevailing wage. He also advocated projects like tree-planting by volunteers and school district environmental classes.

"Let's all roll up our sleeves and get to work on sensible, affordable pollutant reduction plans that again best suit our communities and the Chesapeake Bay."

  • Ratliff said Greencastle's stormwater fee is greater than its sewer and water bills combined. He said people on fixed incomes might be forced out of their homes and small businesses close their doors.

He asked the state to put a hold on the implementation of all MS4 pollution reduction plans "until a cost effective program can be put into place. This will allow for stormwater fees to be put into hold status while MS4 administrators work with DEP and the legislature to develop a comprehensive sediment reduction program that has a greater financial return on investment."

  • "As I see it, the major problem is, there aren't any 'specific' instructions to the boroughs and townships from the PA DEP on what to fix and how much to fix it," according to Brian Harbaugh.

He also looked to the future. He said if or when he wants to sell his property, "I am sure it won't help in the process when I tell the buyer ... oh, by the way, this property comes with a $14,000 annual bill."

  • "This is another unfunded mandate, which is driving people out of Franklin County and out of Pennsylvania," Randy Flair of Greencastle wrote. "This storm drain tax is another example of a tax for a service we will never use."
  •  "We support the fee and feel that since this area is responsible for the pollution, we should pay the fee," wrote Michele and David Emmett of Greencastle. "Yes, it is an impactful fee, but the impact of continued pollution without remedy is worse."