NEWSLETTER # 100,  January 2003            PO BOX 155, BEAUFORT, NC 28516.  252-726-6663

Director's Editorial: Dick Bierly

Phase II National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)
Stormwater Runoff Management

Carteret County Crossroads for years has recognized that the primary cause of water quality degradation in our county is stormwater runoff. In our communications directed at local officials and the public we have attempted to help people understand that we need to improve the way in which we protect our waters by more effectively dealing with runoff. We have proposed buffers for the land use plan and have highlighted the negative consequences of existing sub-division rules permitting development that is too dense. We have held meetings at which the selected developers and town officials demonstrated that development can be done in such a way that the environment is protected, quality of life is preserved and communities can still grow.

But not much concrete has happened in our county. It seems that our officials, and perhaps many citizens, just cannot fathom the fact that rain causes pollution. The fact that significant acreage of our shellfish waters is closed after a heavy rain is just overlooked or accepted as a given. Other than the town of Emerald Isle, which has taken action to correct serious flooding caused by runoff, we are not aware of any action taken by planning boards or commissioners in the county that would suggest they understand the problem.

We were pleased when we learned that the Environmental Management Commission intended to take action to implement Phase II of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). Phase I having applied to industry and larger communities, Phase II is to apply to smaller municipalities. Public hearings were held last summer and the EMC released temporary rules in October. The number of municipalities to be covered based on population was expanded. The State has the authority to designate others that may not meet the population level, but because of unique conditions and/or settings (like our county), may be designated by the EMC as covered and will have to apply for a permit.

But there still are unanswered questions. Just what is a storm sewer system. The primary stormwater system of a county consists of the highway ditches and culverts. Due to a unique arrangement in North Carolina, however, county highways are "owned" by the State, not the county. Therefore counties have argued they have no responsibility for stormwater from county roads. In contrast, the county can be subject to Phase II Rules for county owned facilities like hospitals, airports, schools, community colleges, etc., all of which have engineered conveyances to collect stormwater and transport it elsewhere (a definition of a stormwater system). This matter of county responsibility was to be resolved by the EMC in their December meeting but it was tabled until their February meeting.

Where we felt these new requirements might be the force that will motivate county and town officials to look seriously at controlling storm water runoff, it now seems that this will be an evolutionary process rather than a revolutionary process. Carteret County is one "municipal entity" that the EMC will assess to see if a permit is required, but not until the White Oak River Basin Plan is up for renewal. That is several years out in the future.

We had hoped that this EMC initiative would motivate our county and towns to look carefully at this issue. In fact, based on the fact of our county's abundance of waters supporting shellfishing, Crossroads had written to all Carteret County municipalities urging them to volunteer to comply whether we are so directed by EMC or not. This is exactly the type of initiative that could best be done on a countywide basis. To date, none of the municipalities have shown any inclination to pursue Phase II permitting.

Phase II also has provisions for private citizens to “petition” the EMC to have their community covered. It turns out to be pretty technical and more than a little complicated but the Crossroads' Board intends to study this approach and to develop a plan of action to do just that. We may need to call upon our membership to help if we decide to do this.

On the plus side there are some really good elements to Phase II. Public entities subject to the rule will have to develop, implement and enforce a stormwater management plan approved by the state. The plan must be designed to reduce discharge of pollutants to the maximum extent practicable. Among other things required is a public education program on the impacts of stormwater discharges on water bodies to inform citizens of how to reduce pollution in stormwater runoff. For local governments to do this correctly, they will need to fully understand the issue and develop a program of public involvement and participation. Municipalities will need to demonstrate that they know where their stormwater discharges are and demonstrate that illicit discharges are eliminated. Sub-division development and ordinances will have to be assessed to assure developers use effective measures to reduce post-construction runoff. Additionally, the issue of density of development will get on the table. Local officials will have to come to grips with the many scientific studies that strongly imply a positive relationship between density of development and degradation of water quality in a river basin.

The Crossroads’ Board intends to follow this matter closely. We will provide status reports in our newsletters. We hope our members will read our input and other material that will be in the local newspapers from time to time. There will be public meetings that we hope you will attend and there may be opportunities for you to volunteer some time to this effort. This is an important opportunity for all of us to combine efforts to deal with the problem most responsible for our water quality degradation.

Crossroads Annual Meeting

7:00 pm Thursday, March 6, 2003

Duke Marine Lab Auditorium

This year we will be discussing various aspects of the stormwater problem. You are all aware that stormwater runoff is undoubtedly the major cause of our water quality degradation. Especially in Carteret County where our sounds and estuaries are affected mainly by local runoff, not by pollutants from upstream, runoff is the cause of our shellfish closures. When a heavy rain comes, we all want to get it off our roads and property quickly but in doing so, we are putting pollutants into our waters. This is the basic problem we will address. We must find reasonable solutions if we want to preserve our water quality.
As the preceding editorial by our President, Dick Bierly, illustrates, implementation of Phase II NPDES permitting can be a major factor in reducing pollution from runoff. However, it remains to be seen whether or not these regulations will apply to our county and our municipalities. Already there is considerable opposition to the implementation of these regulations and the future is uncertain.
Thus, it seems appropriate for Crossroads and the public to consider in more detail the problem of stormwater runoff and ways we, as citizens, can develop solutions to the problems caused by runoff. An informed, concerned citizenry must influence local and state officials to take the steps necessary to preserve our water quality—the basis for our quality of life and economic progress in the county. There are many ways of doing this—improved land use planning, better development practices, improved ordinances, better state regulations, and more vigorous enforcement of existing regulations. All need citizen support to be effective.
We will have a panel of experts to inform us of the problem and practical solutions that we citizens and our local government can take to solve the problem.
Granted, this may not be an emotional issue like LNG storage or an ethanol fermentation plant on Radio Island, but to the future of Carteret County, it is just as important. Come on out, get informed and make a difference. We will have more details in a subsequent mailing.

Crossroads News.

We ask that you look at the first line of your mailing label, which gives the present status of your Crossroads membership. Unless your label says “DUES PAID FOR 2003” dues are now due. We depend on your dues payments and contributions as our primary source of income. All our work is done by volunteers with no paid employees; the chief expense is for the printing and mailing of the newsletter. However, our expenses currently are running slightly ahead of our income—a situation that cannot be sustained over the long run. If you feel that we are contributing something of value to the community, we would greatly appreciate your support, as shown by prompt payment of dues.
We also need you to show your support by introducing your friends and neighbors to Crossroads. Frequently we meet people greatly interested in the issues we pursue who are unaware of Crossroads and eager to join when they learn of us. Certainly some of your friends are also unaware of Crossroads and would be glad to support us if given the opportunity. Remember that we will gladly add anyone to our mailing list for a trial subscription of the newsletter—at no charge. All we need is an address and an indication of interest.
A third of the Directors of Crossroads are elected each year at the Annual Meeting. Present members of the Board whose terms have expired and who have been nominated for another term include: Dick Bierly, Irv Hooper and Mike Orbach.
Welcome to new Life Members, Sandra and Birkett Howard and Bess and Tom Ogden. We are grateful for the support of these dedicated members.