EnvironmentThe Northern Westchester Examiner

Massive Expense Awaiting Municipalities in East of Hudson Watershed

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Municipalities in the East of Hudson watershed will have to comply with much more stringent MS4 stormwater regulations that will be prohibitively expensive and carry stiff penalties for communities that fail to comply.

New regulations from the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) that went into effect in January requires towns to work harder to make sure their stormwater is clean.

Last week, New Castle officials blasted the state for imposing what may be a cost of as much as an additional $4 million over the next five years to adhere to the higher standards.

The standards, which stemmed from the historic 1997 agreement to protect New York City’s drinking water, have periodically been strengthened since then, said New Castle Director of Planning Sabrina Charney Hull. That included development of Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4) for communities within the city’s watershed starting in 2008.

By 2015, the DEC had sought comments from stakeholders on two draft SPDES permits that established greater requirements for municipalities to follow, Hull said.

“As the Town of New Castle, we also submitted comments on these two permits because they were very, very onerous for a small community to undertake and very rigorous given our current staffing levels and the work we do today,” Hull said.

While there are still six minimum control measures that towns such as New Castle must undertake, there are more than 20 new or stricter requirements.

Several examples of the additional responsibilities that towns are being forced to follow is a mapping system to track its street sweeping, cleaning of catch basins and to track illicit stormwater discharges; create a user-friendly public education website regarding stormwater; track every homeowner with a septic system that they are having their septic system maintained; come up with a monitoring location and an inspection of the discharge points; and track the inspection and maintenance of stormwater systems on private properties.

Hull said initial estimates to hire the staff to complete the tasks could cost the town $3 million to $4 million between now and 2029. Grants for certain tasks could be sought but there is no guarantee of success, Hull said. If additional funding streams are not obtained, the town would still be required to move forward with the new standards.

“It is a lot of money,” she said.

New Castle Town Engineer Robert Cioli said the DEC is requiring an annual inspection report for all property owners that have a stormwater system regardless of its size. That would include private homeowners, commercial properties and homeowners’ associations, he said.

“So this is going to be a big added cost to all the people, residential property owners in town that have very small stormwater facilities,” Cioli said. “So it’s going to be a big hit for property owners in town for residential properties, and that’s what DEC wants.”

On Wednesday, the DEC responded via e-mail to questions from The Examiner that the updated regulations are in conformance with the Phase I Remand Rule, promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection.

The new permit requires the MS4 operator to develop, implement and enforce a Stormwater Management Program to reduce the discharge of pollutants that may enter into and be discharged from their MS4 system, said DEC spokesperson Dana Ferine. It must be adjusted within the parameters of the permit, as new information becomes available, to best address water quality issues and reduce the discharge of pollutants, Ferine said.

More than 500 MS4’s throughout New York State.

Prior to the 2029 expiration date of the updated permit, DEC anticipates to notice for a permit renewal and any modifications necessary to cover the next five-year period, including extensive public outreach, Ferine added.

Maximum penalties for noncompliance are fines of $37,500 a day and/or 15 years in jail, Hull said.

Town Board members were stunned at the breadth and depth of the requirements that was described as a massive unfunded mandate.

“This is the biggest government overreach I have ever seen,” said New Castle Supervisor Victoria Tipp. “We’re all in favor of clean water and conservation practices. I mean all of the goals are certainly commendable, but this is the most outrageous governmental overreach I have ever, ever heard of.”

Town Administrator Jill Shapiro said it would be advantageous for all East of Hudson watershed municipalities to strategize together about next steps.

For New Castle, it would be unlikely that the town could remain under the tax cap for the foreseeable future, said Comptroller Robert Deary.

“It’s going to make it difficult for probably most municipalities to stay under the tax cap if they’re going to comply with this,” Deary said.

Ferine did not address the likelihood of fiscal challenges municipalities may face caused by compliance with the new regulations.

New Castle officials said it might help if towns could lobby their state representatives in hopes of receiving a tax cap exemption for MS4 expenses.

This article has been updated from the print edition following the state Department of Environmental Protection’s responses, which were received two days after press time.

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