Hagerstown Highlights High Costs of New Phase II MS4 Permits

Herald-Mail Media article (2018-09-15) examined the significant fiscal costs facing those counties and municipalities subject to the newest version of the Phase II Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit. The new Phase II permits, set to take effect October 31, require a local jurisdiction to upgrade the stormwater treatment capabilities for 20 percent of their existing impervious surface. The article specifically focused on how this new requirement would affect Hagerstown.

The article noted that Hagerstown has been subject to a Phase II MS4 permit since 2002 and has roughly 2,200 acres of untreated impervious surface, meaning that the city must treat 400 to 450 acres under the new 20 percent requirement. An advisory group has been looking at how the city can meet the 20 percent requirement since this March. From the article:

“That’s mainly all the buildings, streets, roadways, rooftops in what I’ll call the downtown area,” [Hagerstown Assistant City Engineer Jim]Bender said in an interview Thursday. “It’s been here the longest. It’s been here for 150, 200 years or more. … Nobody ever thought of providing water quality treatment.”

Speaking before the Hagerstown City Council this past week, Bender estimated it could cost about $25 million to $30 million to satisfy the permit, which runs through 2023.

The article noted that the advisory group and the city were considering a variety of methods to meet the impervious surface restoration requirement but faced significant challenges. Retrofits to existing stormwater facilities are one of the most cost-effective treatment methods but many of these facilities are privately owned, requiring the city to undertake complicated negotiations with property owners. Another preferred method is forest planting, but the city’s limited free space and fiscal resources makes such projects very challenging.

Bender also noted in the article that the city is still considering how to pay for the required stormwater projects and are considering the imposition of a stormwater remediation fee (also known as a “rain tax.” However, Bender cautioned that it was “premature” to say the advisory group would include a fee recommendation when its work concludes in December.

The new Phase II MS4 permits will apply to the following counties: Calvert, Cecil, Queen Anne’s, St. Mary’s, Washington, and Wicomico. Ten other Maryland counties are subject to a broader Phase I permit that is specifically tailored for each jurisdiction.

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