Stormwater fees unfair, arbitrary, reveal incompetency
For each of the past several years, the state of Georgia has found the Fayette County stormwater programs to be in compliance with their permit. Therefore, a new Stormwater Utility in Fayette County is not intended to comply with any deficiency; its only purpose is to collect more money.
Repair of replacement of culverts has been the main discussion point for the proposed utility. There are a number of road culverts in need of repair. For some time now, several of those culverts have been listed as preventing emergency equipment from crossing them. That being the case, every effort to make needed repairs should be initiated to ensure citizen safety.
But funds for this important work should have been allocated years ago. Those dangerous culvert conditions didn’t just suddenly appear, they have been in desperate need of replacement for a number of years.
The county is using those dangerous culverts to convince us to pay extra into the county coffers to not only fix those in dire need, but to also do normal maintenance on many other culverts. Where are the maintenance funds in the $4 million budgeted for our road department? Isn’t it logical to include maintenance and keep the roads safe?
The proposal for this utility is to gather $1.5 million each year for as long as the utility exists. This is in addition to the $329,000 budgeted for the Stormwater Department for this year. The new money would come from a “fee” while the smaller amount comes from the General Fund.
I have spent a lot of time working on this issue and, in my opinion, there is so much wrong with their proposal that it would take several articles to expose all of them.
In addition to the problem of collecting new money from us for normal maintenance work, the system proposed by Fayette County of imposing a blanket “fee” is just wrong. They couldn’t figure out an equitable method of assigning those fees, so they decided to throw a net over everyone no matter what the situation calls for.
It looks to me that the county staff lacks the knowhow, and they do not possess adequate information, skills and understanding, to allow them to solve the complex issues. From what I have learned, this is the only conclusion I can reach.
What should have happened was delineation of service areas, identification of problem areas and evaluate who or what is causing them.
Typically, controlling stormwater runoff becomes a problem when fast-moving water degrades the receiving streams. Pollutants from surface runoff in the form of eroded sediment and man-made materials can overwhelm the natural filtration ability of vegetation when the level of imperviousness becomes significant.
However, the amount of impervious surfaces, of all types, becomes a problem ONLY when the percentage of the land coverage reaches a point where vegetative cover can not keep erosion from taking place and remove the pollutants.
In Fayette County, the percentage of imperviousness varies greatly. The result is that the impact levels are very different. Identifying which is which is not be an easy task. But it must be done the right way and with a sense of fairness to ensure equal treatment for everyone involved.
Consider this. In Fayette County, there are many hundreds of residences which drain into areas which receive no county services. No roads, no culverts, no bridges, no water intake points, nothing that causes the county to spend a single penny!
Yet, Fayette County plans to charge everyone a fee no matter where you live. It doesn’t matter that some of us have caused none of the problems, nor that this same group will receive any benefit.
Using aerial photographs, I identified 350 residences along some of our streams where the drainage is away from anything related to the county government. People living on much of the Flint River, parts of Line Creek, the lower areas of Whitewater Creek, some of Morning Creek, much of Horton Creek and several other unnamed streams all fall into this category.
Yet the county will soon require all of us to pay them $70 just because they can. And where will our money be spent? Well, not where we live, and that inequity makes the decision to establish a utility without a well-thought-out plan totally arbitrary.
There are several hundred additional properties, all around Fayette County, that have zero impact on county stormwater levels because they have large vegetative areas surrounding their homes. Those vegetated areas slow the water movement to the point where it does not become a problem and removes most, if not all, pollutants.
So when farmers, such as the Bowlden Brothers, have several thousand square feet of impervious surfaces but they also have 60 or 100 acres between them and Perry Creek, they have no impact on stormwater in any way. Yet Fayette County will be charging them $70, perhaps more, for the impervious surfaces on their farms. How can that be fair?
My personal situation is that I meet both of the conditions above where my 6,000 square feet of house and driveway drain across over 3 acres of grass and wooded area into Horton Creek. From there the creek flows into the Flint River.
Because of all of that vegetation, my less than 5 percent imperviousness has no real impact on Horton Creek flood levels nor on the quality of the water in the creek.
Yet the county plans to charge me $70 and use my “fee” to fix problems elsewhere in Fayette County. How can that be fair?
[Dennis Chase, now retired, was a fish and wildlife biologist with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service for more than 26 years. Since retiring, he has worked as a consultant for Fayette County on environmental concerns, is a volunteer with the Line Creek Association of Fayette County, and has published numerous newspaper columns.]