June 24, 2010

Stormwater Management 101

"Raindrops keep fallin' on my head."

"Stormwater management" is not a usual topic around the water-cooler. But James City County (JCC) residents may want to discuss it at cocktail parties soon. You see, the feds and the state mandate that locals deal with their stormwater runoff. Why? Too much of it (and in the wrong places) can flood us out of our homes or wash a lot of pollutants into our streams where it meanders into our rivers, and ultimately into the Chesapeake. Lots of crabs, oysters, and fish then get cranky. Then the watermen get cranky. Then we get cranky when we can't enjoy roast oyster or a crabcake.

How do we handle this over-supply of rainwater? We can restore streams to limit the amount of erosion, build more retention ponds to let the water slowly ebb out of our neighborhoods, and come up with other creative ways to deal with drainage. Less construction, whether residential, retail, or commercial, would of course simplify matters. Impervious parking lots and more streets are a major challenge to rainwater looking to go somewhere.

How much will this cost? JCC supervisors tell us they have about $30.8 million worth of projects that need to be done within the next decade. Maryland residents bit the bullet last year and swallowed a "flush tax" to fund their needed projects. A "rain tax" passed by JCC supervisors in 2008 became a political football and was overturned shortly after adopted.

Speaking of football, our elected JCC supervisors are probably going to pass the decision on to the voters instead of funding it through fees. We lucky voters will most likely get to vote on this important issue in the November elections as a $30 million referendum to borrow the funds through bonds. Of course, we'll be paying an additioanl $2.4 million back for that "privilege," which translates into a tax increase. The issue is on hold at the moment as the JCC supervisrors weigh the options and figure out how to best inform the voters of the dreaded "T" word. One way or the other, we'll pay now or pay later.

Our elected folks in the Virginia Assembly had a good opportunity to deal with this issue last session--as well as to fund it on the front end by asking more from the developers--but were scared off by "constuction lobbyists." One easy solution is pervious concreate that allows rain water to soak through, instead of running off in torrents during a heavy rain. Another, of course, is less development.

But our JCC supervisors opted this week to blow off the recommendations of both their planning staff and the planning commission to deep six the Courthouse Commons proposal. Just what we need here--another shopping center, just across the street from vacant buildings and empty lots.