DPW: ‘Unfunded mandate’ would cost Norwalk millions

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A slide from a Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) PowerPoint presentation.

NORWALK, Conn. – Protecting Norwalk’s rivers in a new way outlined by the state would be prohibitively expensive, according to Norwalk Department of Public Works leaders.

“In a time of constricting resources, Norwalk will be hard-pressed to add $5.22 million to its Fiscal Year 2016-17 operating budget with unsubstantiated permit requirements and minimal water quality results,” DPW Operations Manager Lisa Burns wrote to Christopher Stone of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) on Sept. 4, about the draft “General Permit for the Discharge of Stormwater from Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems.”

“We’re not saying that we shouldn’t find a way to manage stormwater, the quality of stormwater better, but this isn’t it,” Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord told the Public Works Committee last week. “This is huge mandate, unfunded mandate that isn’t going to accomplish that much.”

DEEP and the Environmental Protection Agency are grappling with what to do about stormwater, Alvord said.

“The regulatory agencies have very good control of point source pollution,” Alvord said. “In other words, those places like a waste water treatment program that has one single outfall into a water source or industrial facilities like King Industries, for example. What they don’t have is any control at all on storm water runoff from surfaces and that runoff that carries fertilizers from the lawns and gardens and pesticides from shrubs and trees and all of that kind of stuff, and the runoff from pavement, and the hydrocarbons that come with it, or animal feces or whatever else is out there.”

The problem with trying to hold municipalities accountable for water quality in rivers is that rivers flow through multiple towns, he said.

“There’s been a lot of discussion and I think generally everybody agrees there’s no way to do that in any reasonable matter,” Alvord said. “So what the DEEP has come up with are a bunch of physical actions that they plan to put into the MS4 permit and they’re going to have tiers of towns. We would be a tier 1 town, that would have to do all of these things. For example, I don’t remember the exact increases but we try to sweep our streets twice a year. We don’t get to them twice a year and we’re lucky if we get to them once a year. It’s a resource issue. We have three sweepers … We’d have to double or triple our street sweeper fleet and we’d have to have more people to operate those sweepers.”

Burns, in her letter, predicted a $400,000 yearly expense for this, with nearly no impact on water quality. “Norwalk does not use sand in its winter snow operations, the tonnage of material (litter) picked up by the street sweepers does not justify the cost at this frequency, and there are other means used by Norwalk in hot spot areas (catch basin filters) to prevent the litter from entering the watercourses.” She wrote.

Alvord said DEEP wants to require Norwalk to clean each of its 16,000 catch basins twice a year. “We can’t get to all of them in five years,” he said.

Then there is the problem of goose poop.

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A slide from a Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) PowerPoint presentation.

“You have to take those areas and separate the drainage in those areas from the rest. … You can’t let those areas drain into the river,” Alvord said. “We’d have to take Vets Park, not let anything drain from Vet’s Park and somehow make it all drain into the sanitary sewer system, so it gets treated. You’re talking about just unbelievable costs to these things.”

Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) asked what the South Western Regional Planning Agency (SWRPA) thinks of the proposal.

“It’s foolish,” Alvord said. “It’s the same position we’ve taken here.”

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) has taken up the battle, he said. “There will be some amendments to this, it’s only a question of how it gets amended. Now there’s some state legislators involved, it’s going to be a big issue,” Alvord said. “… It’s going to be a year or more until they figure out what they’re going to do with it.”

Kimmel asked if the measures would be helpful, costs aside.

“No,” Alvord said. “For example leaf collection. Leaves going into rivers is a huge problem. Where did the leaves go before the pilgrims landed in the United States? They went into the rivers.”

Burns in her letter said that one city-wide leaf collection would cost $45,000 and a city ordinance would need to be changed.

Leaf collections were one of the things ardent environmental activist Diane Lauricella mentioned when she spoke to the committee at the beginning of the meeting.

“That are several things that I feel you need to address, one as far as an MS4 permit, discussing any needs for staffing, catch basin cleaning, especially leaf collection and the education portion of this, I think we need to step up,” she said.”… Possibly Public works needs to make it very clear to other departments that it is important that we work together so that we are protecting what goes in storm sewers that go directly into the harbor which we have all of course spent a lot of money dredging.”

And, “I don’t agree with the gist of what Miss Burns is telling the DEEP that it is too expensive, that it doesn’t make sense. … I think we have to take this a lot more seriously as a city and let people know about it,” Lauricella said, as Committee Chairman David McCarthy (R-District E) let her talk for seven minutes.

“I’m not arguing that we can’t look at this,” Alvord said. “Well, if we sweep more frequently we won’t put as much sand into the rivers. We don’t use sand on our roads. … Are there some construction yards? Yep. But you don’t have the volume of sand or sediment going into the watercourse that you had years ago.”

John Igneri (D-District E) said something similar is going on at boating clubs.

“Any marine facilities on the water they just passed a rule that we have to take storm water runoff after it comes off the building, when it’s in our parking lot, before it hits the street,” Igneri said. “Who knows where we’re going to find it. It’s costing – if we have to correct anything where is this money coming from?”

MS4 DPW letter


4 responses to “DPW: ‘Unfunded mandate’ would cost Norwalk millions”

  1. Diane C2

    nancyonnorwalk: please find out when and if the City of Norwalk has EVER been in compliance with our MS4 permit.

  2. John Frank sr

    Alvord, and his assistant, exaggerate. The draft copy of the new MS4 rules, available on the DEEP website, call for compliance with the clean water act, of course, but clearly recognize that some changes could be too expensive for some communities. Street sweeping, for example, is NOT required at the same level for every street. There is little room for argument some streets need sweeping a lot more often than others. Catch basins also need to be cleaned on a schedule that makes sense. The filters that were installed a few years ago were a good idea, but were not maintained. As they were filled with pollutants, they were removed and discarded. Alvord’s name was used in the filter company’s advertising for a while. A budget for replacing filters was apparently never implemented. The standard in the draft MS4 permit is catch basins need to be cleaned out before they get 1/2 full. Some will need cleaning a lot more often than others, but not every catch basin every week.

    “practical solutions may not be lightly rejected. If a covered entity chooses only a few of the least expensive methods, it is likely that MEP has not been met. On the other hand, if a covered entity employs all applicable BMPs except those where it can be shown that they are not technically feasible in the locality, or whose cost would exceed any benefit to be derived, it would have met the standard.” (cut and pasted from DEEP draft.)

  3. Kathleen Montgomery

    Thanks John. The dismissal of most issues by Alvord seemed to be a bit defensive and the information you provided helps a great deal.

  4. John Frank sr

    Company that put filter in Norwalk Storm drains is called AbTech and they are in Arizona. Their presentations still shows Norwalk as one of their installations as recently as July 2014, but there is no mention of Alvord as a booster.

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