In preparation for the Planning Commission Public Hearing on Nov. 26, and up until yesterday, I spent countless hours pouring through EPA, State DEQ and City permits and regulations regarding stormwater management. Now that's some FUN! You ought to try it.
What are the minimum regulations the City has to comply with? This should be simple for the experts who deal with this stuff every day, but since an answer from Staff was elusive, someone had to figure it out. The following is a smidgen of the research I did. If I made any errors, please let me know! Accuracy is extremely important.
The Planning Commission will be deliberating their recommendations to the City Council at their meeting on Monday night (December 14), starting at 5:30 pm. The meeting will be in City Hall, broadcast live on Tualatin Valley Cable TV, and streaming live online. Do the Commisioners have all of the information they need to do their job? What questions might they have, and will they be answered clearly and thoroughly?
Here is a brief summary of what I learned:
1. The City has been using the proposed, but never approved, stormwater regulations for new development for some time. How does that work? Can they just tell builders what they have to do, even though there are no codes to support it yet? Wow. Even if they are that confident, that is putting the cart way before the horse. But what choice do builders have but to do as they are told?
2. Finding all of the intersecting rules from several agencies and multiple documents was the most difficult part of getting answers to what the minimum requirements were. Even those posted on the City's website can be hard to find because they are spread across several webpages.
3. Staff told the Planning Commission, aka Commission for Citizen Involvement, that citizen involvement in creating the Stormwater Management Manual was not possible because the information was too technical and couldn't be changed anyway, but they would undertake to educate us instead. At first blush, this sounded reasonable, until I started reading the background documents and realized this was not true. The main policy issues are not at all technical, and they can be changed. The public should definitely be involved in determining what course of action the city should take, but they were intentionally blocked from meaningful participation. How much easier would this have been if citizens were brought into the process early and educated about the choices to be made. Wait - isn't that what is supposed to happen anyway? Oh, this is confusing.
4. The EPA makes its rules for the states to follow, and then the State DEQ adds more rules to pass on to local jurisdictions. At every level, a governing body may not subtract from, but may add to the regulations of the higher-authority government agency. For LO, the sequence is : EPA to State DEQ to Phase I Permittee. Phase I is for medium and large cities, or groups of small cities working under a common permit. The end set of regulations that Lake Oswego is obligated to follow is the Phase I MS4 NPDES Permit from Clackamas County Service District #1. Lake Oswego must follow the terms of the County permit. It can make its rules more stringent, but not less.
5. The City, as a co-permittee on the MS4 Permit, is required to have its own MS4 Permit. The most recent permits are posted on the State DEQ Stormwater webpage. Both the common permit and the city permit expire in March of 2017. While the city is required to update its Stormwater Management Manual (amend its current design manual, adopt another city's manual, or develop a new one), the hotly-debated trigger thresholds for complying with onsite stormwater infiltration systems are not required to change. Both the County's and Lake Oswego's existing MS4 Permits state that only projects more than 3,000 SF in area must comply with new stormwater regulations - to the "maximum extent practicable." Bingo. What was so hard about that?
6. The biggest question remains - why does the Engineering Department want to push the threshold down to 500 SF? After hearing so many complaints about the lower limits, the newest proposal (at the Planning Commission Public Hearing on Nov. 23) gave a new recommendation that would soften requirements for projects between 500 SF and 3,000 SF. Unfortunately, the proposal before the Commission did not have any of the codes changed to reflect this new way of thinking, so it is unclear what, exactly, the new recommendation would look like. Also, without new codes, the recommendation means nothing, so why put it in at all?
Why should anyone care? With stormwater coming out of our ears, our yards, flowing down the slopes, across roads and other yards, turning ditches into torrents and flooding streets and basements, doing something - anything - seems imperative. Here's what you need to think about: pushing stormwater problems onto individual homeowners at great cost and trouble for them is wrong. Development of public infrastructure has always been the city's responsibility and shouldn't become an expensive burden for just a few. The additional personnel needed to administer, map, inspect and track all of these systems will break the City's budget also and add even more to our tax bill. And most of these green facilities don't work. There are many of these things all over town that flood every time it rains, even just a little. A decent storm water system is better than idealistic, bureaucratic thinking. And if you don't think you will have to deal with this, think again. As codes are written now, it is only a matter of time before every home in the city (except on extreme slopes, etc.) will have to comply. Will you be ready?
Where do we go from here?
As always, let your City Council know what you think.
It's our city after all!