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Selectmen Mull $1.5M Stormwater Program To Meet Fed Mandate

Mar 28, 2019 09:15PM ● By Lisa Redmond

DRACUT – To meet new federal stormwater regulations against stormwater pollution, the Board of Selectmen is considering enacting a fee based on the impervious surfaces of each property to pay for an estimated $1.5 million annual program to prevent stormwater from contaminating lakes, streams, ponds and rivers.

The town is mandated meet federal requirements for a five-year MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems) permit, which went into effect July 1, 2018. Every community in the state is required to establish a program to prevent stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces, such as driveways, walkways and roof to pollute waterways, according to Neal Campbell, a project manager with CDM Smith.

To ignore the mandate is to face fines, fees and sanctions from the federal government.

Communities faced the same sort of economic challenge when towns were forced to clean waterways by beginning a wastewater/sewer program. Town Manager James Duggan he delayed implementing the stormwater program due to the cost but over the past two years the town has been preparing for the stormwater program.

Campbell told the selectmen Tuesday night that stormwater is rain, snow melt and anything else that flows into the storm drains then dumped into waterways and wetlands. The stormwater contains contaminants from grease to feces.

According to the MassDEP, all of Dracut’s eight waterways are impaired with E. coli levels that exceed MassDEP limits. E.coli bacteria found in animal waste, runoff from lawns and farms, flocks of geese and illegal septic connections. The Merrimack River is also impaired by phosphorus.

All that runoff travels through Dracut’s stormwater system, including: 77 miles of drain pipes, 1,125 culverts, 3,800 catch basins, 150 detention ponds, 430 outfalls and 160 miles of public streets. Campbell estimates the town’s costs for the system will start at $750,000 in FY20, $1.25 million in FY21 and $1.5 million in FY 22.

The most expensive charges are: Investment in capital equipment, such street sweepers and vacuum truck and staff; additional stormwater sampling and testing; a robust catch basin cleaning program; additional street sweeping; and stringent monitoring for illegal discharging.

A proposed stormwater fee would help to offset the cost of the program. CDM used drones to digitally map all impervious surfaces in the town. There is a total of 53, 227,053-square feet of impervious surface in town.

CDM recommends the town implement a fee based on each property’s total square footage of the impervious surfaces such as roof tops, driveways, sidewalks and pools. CDM recommends a rate of $1.57 per 100-square feet in FY20, $2.47 in FY21 and $3.12 in FY22.

The result is the average single-family home with nearly 4,000-square feet of impervious area will pay an annual fee of $62 in FY20, $97 in FY21 and $123 in FY22. Dracut High School has more than 1 million-square feet will pay about $17,000, $26, 600 and $33,600. An office park with 187,000- square feet would pay $3,000, $$4,600 and $5,800.

The town could also approve a stormwater credit policy with a credit of up to 50 percent of the annual fee for properties that install an infiltration system, such as a dry well, rain garden or detention pond. And customers have the right to appeal a bill to the local Stormwater Permitting Authority and depending on the outcome -court.

The next step in the process is for the selectmen to support the program then it will go to Town Meeting in June for approval. The billing process will need to be finalized with semi-annual billing beginning as early as July.

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