County mulls over new EPA mandate

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Lawrence County government officials should get a look this week at the county's proposed storm water runoff plan.

Lawrence Soil and Water Conversation District officials working on the plan told the Lawrence County Commission last week that they are putting finishing touches on an EPA-required document that is aimed at protecting the area's creeks, streams and rivers from polluted storm runoff.

To protect water resources from polluted storm water, the Ohio EPA has been contacting owners of small municipal storm sewer systems (MS4s) which may be required obtain permit coverage for storm water discharge. Under the new regulations, urbanized areas would have to design a plan to reduce the discharge of pollutants which would satisfy six minimum control measures such as construction site runoff.

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Storm water gets polluted when materials such as oil and litter are washed with rain into storm drains, which are discharged into surface waters.

This first phase of the storm water runoff plan will concern runoff produced by homeowners and government entities. Lawrence Soil and Water Conservation District Education Coordinator Carrie Cheek said the plan must be in place by March 10. It will explain how the county plans to combat polluted runoff over the next five years.

"We've tried to use resources that we already have in the county," Lawrence Soil and Water Conservation District Office Manager Peggy Reynolds said.

The very idea of an EPA-mandated storm runoff plan has local officials seeing red, especially since some neighboring counties are not being required to have a plan. Some fear the plan will cost money that local entities do not have.

"This isn't something we cooked up," Lawrence County Commission President George Patterson said. "I think we need to ask the County Commission Association to help us find something more livable. I think this board of commissioners needs to say to the EPA 'let us come up with a plan that is not so strenuous.'"

"It's an unfunded mandate and it's totally unfair," Commissioner Jason Stephens said.

If the plan is considered unfair, it is also considered confusing as some areas of the county will be affected and others will not be. Cheek said that the EPA will only require the stringent policies for areas it considers to be "urbanized."

Under EPA guidelines, Hamilton, Upper, Perry, Union, Rome and Fayette townships are considered to be urbanized. All of the villages within those townships are on the list, but may apply for a waiver if their population is less than 1,000 or they do not discharge into an impaired waterway.

Villages may have their own plan or agree to be included in the county's plan.

Cheek said part of Athalia is considered "urbanized" and must be included in a storm water runoff plan, either the county's or a separate plan.

"Half of Athalia?" Stephens asked. "Which half of Athalia does the EPA think is urbanized? You're kidding."

"And why is South Point (considered urbanized)? South Point Mayor William Gaskin asked. "This makes no sense."

Coal Grove officials have applied for a waiver, even though their population exceeds 1,000, because village officials believe they can't afford the changes they would have to enact under the EPA plan. Athalia, Chesapeake, Hanging Rock and Proctorville have also applied for exemptions under the 1,000 population guideline.

Some of the cost for changes will be born by property owners, who mill be required to ensure that their septic systems are not emitting pollution. Only a few years ago, many home owners in Lawrence County were told to put in aerator systems as a way of better handling septic waste. Now, the EPA is about to require some of these people to have leachate beds instead-- and this could be a problem for people whose property is not large enough or whose soil composition is not sufficient, to permit a working leachate bed.

Without a working plan, the EPA could fine the county or participating municipalities for violating its order to develop a plan to control runoff.

"In other words," Stephens said grimly, noting the threat of stiff fines, "the EPA has made us an offer we can't refuse."