2012-12-12 / Front Page

New water standards may cost $250 million

By Michael Buettner
NEWS EDITOR


Dupler Dupler Whether you’re a real estate developer or just an ordinary taxpayer, you’ll soon be paying some of the cost of new regulations for keeping the Chesapeake Bay healthy.

Chesterfield County’s Utilities Department has already invested millions of dollars to upgrade its wastewater treatment plants to meet new standards for removing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

But another program, mandated by the federal government, is gearing up and it has the potential to cost Chesterfield millions more to clean up the stormwater runoff that ends up in county streams and ultimately feeds into the bay.

Last week, at a quarterly meeting between county staff and members of the local developer community, Bill Dupler, deputy county administrator for community development, provided a preliminary estimate of just how much the new rules could cost Chesterfield: $250 million through 2028.

“It looks like it will have an impact on our budget,” Dupler said.

Specifically, much of the cost will hit the county’s capital improvement program, which covers the cost of building or upgrading infrastructure. In addition, the new regulations are expected to increase the cost of operations in departments such as Environmental Engineering and Building Inspections.

On top of the hit to the county budget, developers in Chesterfield and across the state will be required to pay drastically increased fees to get permits for development or redevelopment projects that disturb any land:

• Currently, a permit for a project that disturbs more than 2,500 square feet but less than 1 acre costs $200. Under the state Department of Conservation and Recreation’s proposed fee schedule, the fee for any project that disturbs less than an acre will rise to $290.

• Under the current schedule, the fee for a project that disturbs between 1 and 5 acres is $450. That fee would soar to $2,700 under the new rules.

• For a project that disturbs more than 5 acres, the current fee is $750. The new schedule would break that category out into four new categories: For five to 10 acres, the fee would be $3,400; for 10 to 50 acres, the fee would jump to $4,500; for 50 to 100 acres, the fee would climb to $6,100; and for projects over 100 acres, the developer would have to pay a fee of $9,600.

The fee changes are scheduled to go into effect in July 2014. The state will take 28 percent of the fees the county collects.

Dupler said that according to a preliminary analysis, “We will not be able to recover the costs of the inspections the state wants us to do.”

The costs to meet the new stormwater regulations come on top of the expense of upgrading wastewater plants to meet the tighter standards for nutrients.

Roy Covington, director of utilities, said the county is “in the final stages” of upgrading its Falling Creek and Procter’s Creek wastewater treatment plants. “The total amount of the investments in these plants is more than $130 million,” he said.

Covington noted that the Utilities Department operates as an “enterprise fund,” which means it doesn’t receive tax money to pay for its operating and other expenses, but instead funds them with revenue it generates by providing water and sewer services to residents and businesses.

The plant upgrades have had “a substantial impact on expenses on our part,” Covington said. However, he noted, “We did not gain any additional capacity at either plant. … We did not gain a single gallon per day in terms of our capacity.”

To cover the added costs, he said, the department will have to raise its rates for customers and increase the fees it charges for connections to the county water and wastewater systems.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus harm marine life in the Chesapeake Bay mainly by spurring rapid growth in algae, which blocks sunlight from reaching submerged aquatic plants and also depletes the level of oxygen dissolved in the water.

As a result, the plants die off, which leads to depletion of the species of shellfish, fish and waterfowl that live in and feed on them. Not only does this hurt the bay’s ecology, it also impairs the bay as an economic asset, limiting its production of crabs, shellfish and other valuable species.

“Everyone wants a clean Chesapeake Bay,” Covington said. “Keeping the bay clean and keeping the James River clean is something we all would endorse. But it comes at a price.”

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