County looks forward to new stormwater regulations

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR Staff
khelms@starhq.com

   Carter County commissioners cleared the way Monday night for Planning Administrator Chris Schuettler to submit a notice to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) that it intends to comply with new federal and state stormwater regulations and will carry out enforcement of those rules.
   But actually, as Commissioner John D. Snyder pointed out, commissioners really had little choice in the matter.
   Schuettler said that if the county does not submit a Notice of Intent to the state by March 10, "then we will be found in violation of MS4 Phase II (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System)." As a result of noncompliance, the county could then be denied state and federal grant money.
   "What choice do we have?" Snyder asked, citing the need to obtain grant money to move forward on a water project for Fish Spring residents. "This tells me I have to vote for it whether I want it or not," he said of the motion.
   The new regulations will affect pre- and post-construction on sites of one acre or more, up to five acres, which have the potential to impact streams by runoff and soil erosion. Phase One of the stormwater program, which went into effect in the late 1980s, encompasses sites of five acres or more and enforcement is handled by the state.
   Commissioner Al Meehan questioned whether there had been any constitutional challenges to the new stormwater regulations. Schuettler said the issue had been challenged in the 9th Circuit Court.
   Commissioner JoAnn Blankenship asked how much construction permits, required by the new regulations, would cost under the new permit.
   Schuettler said a fee structure had not been established yet. The Planning Commission will take up the matter today at its 3 p.m. meeting and recommendations will be presented to the County Commission at its April meeting.
   Schuettler said that under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, the county had to put in for a stormwater Phase II permit through TDEC, under federal code through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
   "This is part of our Notice of Intent that we are going to actually enforce stormwater control in Carter County to keep erosion, sedimentation control, illicit discharges and things of that nature out of our streams, to keep our groundwater and stormwater clean. Also, we have to do education programs, pre- and post-construction programs, and illicit discharge programs," such as when septic tanks discharge into a creek.
   Schuettler estimated the county could be looking at adding one full-time employee and one part-time worker to implement enforcement of the new regulations.
   Filing a Notice of Intent is just one portion of the program, Schuettler said. Though he has researched fee schedules from other counties, he said he did not find one that he felt suited Carter County. In West Tennessee, some permits were as much as $250 to $300 per lot, he said.
   "We're going to initiate through the Planning Commission a fee schedule we feel like the county can live with, and then present it to the County Commission. The County Commission will have the final vote," he said.
   County Executive Dale Fair said that anyone who drove around the county this past weekend after the heavy rains could see that the county had problems with stormwater.
   Commissioner Chuck Culler made the motion that commissioners approve the Notice of Intent but delay enforcement of the stormwater program until after they had seen and approved a fee schedule.
   Fair asked whether the county would be in violation if it approved the Notice of Intent but delayed enforcement until the April meeting. Schuettler said he believed the county could take as long as 90 days before being in violation.
   Commissioners voted 15-5 to approve the motion.
   "We've known about this program for four years and we've been working on it constantly," Schuettler said afterward.
   In other action, County Financial Director Jason Cody told commissioners that currently, seven months into the fiscal year, the county is $94,000 ahead of schedule on sales tax collections. Sales tax revenue was down during August and January. He attributed January's dip in collections to severe cold weather when the public is less prone to go out and shop.
   "We do look like we have a positive trend right now," he said.
   A series of budget workshops, which will be open to the public as well as commission members, are scheduled to begin May 5, according to Cody. A budget workshop for the full commission tentatively has been set for May 22, Fair said.
   Also Monday, it was announced that Assistant Road Superintendent Jim Slemp will be retiring at the end of March. Slemp received a round of applause from commissioners for his years of hard work and dedication.
   Fair said the commission would address at its April meeting the appointment of a successor for County Tax Assessor John Holsclaw, who announced his resignation Friday after serving 27 years.
   Also, commissioners voted to retain Gary Collins as county coroner for the next two years. Collins' application was the only one received. As one commissioner pointed out, "Not too many people would want that job for $27.50."
   The coroner is paid $27.50 per incident investigated, plus mileage.