County Leaders Discuss Stormwater Restoration Project Permit Reform at #MACoCon

(From left to right) Lynn Buhl, Karl Berger, and Delegate Marvin Holmes listen as Erik Michelsen (standing) discusses county stormwater restoration needs

A panel of local and state officials discussed the ongoing efforts of MACo, counties, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to reform the permit process for stormwater restoration projects on December 10 at the 2015 MACo December Winter Conference. The name of the session was “Don’t Let Your Project Go Down the Drain – Reforming Stormwater Restoration Permitting.”

COG Principal Environmental Planner Karl Berger outlined the general requirements for federally mandated municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permits, including an MDE requirement to retrofit 20% of existing stormwater infrastructure. He also outlined the process that led to a dialogue with MDE about permit streamlining and other MS4 issues. Berger noted that MDE had been very responsive to county concerns.

Anne Arundel County Watershed Protection and Restoration Program Administrator Erik Michelsen provided an overview of county stormwater mandates under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load and the MS4 permits. Michelsen also outlined Anne Arundel County’s approach to stormwater retrofits, including the types of restoration projects the County undertakes and their water quality and ecological benefits. He noted stream restoration and wetlands creation are typically where permit challenges occur – not just with MDE but also the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency. He argued it was illogical for a restoration project to be treated the same as a development project and highlighted several reforms sought by MS4 counties.

MDE Water Management Administration Director Lynn Buhl stressed the importance of ongoing communication, calling new quarterly meetings with MACo a “no-brainer.” She stated permit approval will go from 10 months to 90 days for projects without a net loss of wetlands. MDE will also remove a requirement for an alternative site analysis and not require mitigation for projects intended to be restorative of water quality, habitat, and aquatic resources. Buhl cautioned that MDE will not modify requirements insisted on by the Corps. She stated that while MDE is modifying policies immediately, regulatory changes may take place in a year.

Buhl also announced that MDE is finalizing an advisory body on nutrient credit trading. MACo and several county representatives will participate on the panel. MDE hopes to have the trading program running sometime in 2016.

Maryland Delegate Marvin Holmes moderated the panel.