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Selectmen’s Meeting May Be Flooded By Opposition To Stormwater Fees

May 13, 2019 03:15PM ● By Lisa Redmond

Dracut Selectmen. File photo

DRACUT – Caught between a rock and a hard place, Town Manager Jim Duggan will present the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday with options, including a stormwater fee, to pay for the town’s $1.5 million stormwater program but the majority of the selectmen oppose a fee.

After several meetings where the discussion became heated, Duggan was directed by selectmen to provide options to pay for this costly program using different fee options or a “no fee’ ’option that involves squeezing the money from the town budget which would impact the budgets of town departments such as police, DPW, fire and schools.

The School Committee jammed into the last selectmen’s meeting to express its displeasure with money being cut from the school budget to fund this program.

And, finally, a “do nothing’’ approach in which the town will face the wrath of the federal government if it fails to comply. Under that scenario the town could face daily financial penalties for non-compliance and the town would lose control over how to implement the program.

The Dracut selectmen have voiced their anger at yet another unfunded federal regulation. Duggan doesn’t dispute the unfairness of such a big financial hit, but he has made it clear that he been doing just enough to comply with the feds multi-year implementation program.

Due to a public outcry opposing a stormwater fee, which is seen as another financial burden on the taxpayer, Selectman Chairman Jesse Forcier and members Joe DiRocco, Tami Dristiliaris and Tony Archinski have publicly said they oppose imposing a fee at this time. Selectman Alison Hughes has stated that if it is a choice between a stormwater fee and cutting town and school budgets to pay for the program she’d rather see a fee. The EPA has a list of Massachusetts communities and their status in meeting the requirements of the MS4 permit so far. Only a handful of communities have received waivers from the EPA based on populations of under 1,000 residents. Cost and financial constraints do not appear to be grounds for a waiver. Dracut joins Billerica, Chelmsford, Tewksbury and Tyngsboro in receiving their “authorization letters’’ but urban centers such as Lowell and Lawrence have not, according to the EPA’s list.

Dracut’s Director of Community Development Elizabeth Ware, who has been corresponding with the EPA, now has until Sept. 30 to file the town’s first annual report about the stormwater program.

The town is mandated meet federal requirements for a five-year Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) MS4 Stormwater Permit that mandates all municipalities meet MS4 regulations to eliminate all pollutants to the waters within their jurisdictions.

MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems) permit, which went into effect July 1, 2018, requires that every community in Massachusetts implement 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, the town’s consultant.

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

Campbell explained that stormwater is rain, snow melt and anything else that flows into the storm drains that is 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 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.

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 recommended 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.

Chelmsford, for example, has established an annual flat fee for residential and non-residential structures depending on the square footage of the property starting at $250 for less than 5,000 square feet, according to the town’s website

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