03/28/06 — Nitrogen runoff rule shift could slow development

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Nitrogen runoff rule shift could slow development

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on March 28, 2006 1:48 PM

Developers in Wayne County can expect to pay nearly three times the normal rate to control nitrogen runoff levels from their developments thanks to a amendment regulating nitrogen discharge into the Neuse River.

The North Carolina Division of Water Quality amended the nitrogen discharge rules to protect water quality. No new residential development is permitted to exceed a total nitrogen-loading rate of six pounds per acre per year. Commercial or industrial developments cannot exceed 10 pounds per acre per year.

County Planning Director Connie Price said developers once let nitrogen discharge leave the development sites and get into a river or other water source, which forced another person or business downstream to take care of the problem. Now, developers are responsible for taking care of nitrogen waste before it leaves the site.

County officials said the price will have an effect on a developer's decision to build in Wayne County.

Before the changes, a developer could pay $11 a pound per acre per year for each additional pound over the set limit. The rate was included into a formula, and the result would be what the developer paid the Ecosystem Enhancement Fund to offset the additional nitrogen discharge, Price said.

The changes handed down from the state include an adjustment to the formula and the amount charged to developers. Now, the cost is $57 per pound per acre per year, he said.

The changes would affect five counties and 10 towns along the Neuse River basin, Price said. The affected areas include Kinston, New Bern and Smithfield. Two other river basins affected by the changes are the Tar and Pamlico basins.

County Attorney Borden Parker said the county's Planning Department felt state officials did not make Wayne County officials aware of the change.

"This is a way for the state to pass down the cost," Parker said.

In the past, it was easier and cheaper for the Planning Department and the developers to use a rate that did not incorporate best management practices as it does now.

These practices can be implemented on a development site to help reduce the nitrogen levels, and they include wet detention ponds, constructed wetlands, bioretention and sand filters.

If a developer wants to build a business on an acre-and-a-half lot, that developer would not have the necessary space to build a detention pond. On the other hand, an industry being built on a 20-acre lot could have enough space to choose any best management practice that reduced the nitrogen level to the regulated amount, Price said.

The increased costs affect an industry's interest in locating to Wayne County, costing industries and developers hundreds of thousands of dollars, County Manager Lee Smith said.

"We all want to protect the environment, but there has to be some kind of compromise," Smith said.

This change could also ruin economic development growth throughout the county, he said.

"This would discourage development in Wayne County. The Planning Board doesn't recommend it, the fees are excessive and this would stifle development," Smith said.

If a developer presents a plan to county officials to build a business, Price said the county is forced to charge the fee.

"The county just serves as a collection agency and the money is passed on to the state," he said.

Although the change was not regulated by state legislators, it is an administrative rule. The legislature gave the administrators authority to write the rule, so it has the same effect as a law, Parker said.

Since the legislature gave the administrators authority, legislators have the ability to intervene, which could benefit the county greatly.

"Development will be stifled because people won't be able to afford this," Smith said.

Commissioner Jack Best said the ordinance change is an unfair, expensive way for the state to tax a developer for land the person has already bought.

The other commissioners agreed and decided to postpone any vote to revise the county's Stormwater Ordinance to accommodate the state changes until the board's next meeting on April 18. Until then, Smith said he would send a letter to various legislators and the governor's office explaining the county's stance on the issue.

If the county hopes to have the new regulation changed, Price said county officials would also need to file any grievance with the state-appointed Environmental Management Commission.