07/24/06 — State agrees to reduce runoff fee

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State agrees to reduce runoff fee

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on July 24, 2006 1:52 PM

The General Assembly has lowered nitrogen runoff fees throughout the Neuse River Basin, which will benefit local developers looking to build or expand in Wayne County, officials say.

During construction at a new development, sediments, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, are washed away by the rain. That water eventually runs off into local waterways, such as the Neuse and Tar-Pamilco rivers.

The nitrogen runoff fee, known as the nutrient offset fee program, was established by the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission to help the state maintain strict nitrogen limits. The rules limit the amount of stormwater runoff leaving the site of any new development, which is supposed to protect rivers and streams from harmful amounts of sediments.

An administrative ruling earlier this year by the N.C. Environmental Management Commission changed the nitrogen runoff fee from $11 per pound per acre to $57 per pound per acre along the Neuse River Basin. Many local developers and county officials expressed concern, believing the increased cost would halt development in Wayne County.

For example, AAR Corp., a company that recently announced its intentions to locate to Wayne County, would have to pay, with an $11 per pound per acre fee, about $44,000 in nitrogen runoff fees. If the fee were $56 per pound per acre, the price would increase to more than $279,000.

In the state House Thursday, representatives approved lowering the price back to $11 per pound per acre, Sen. John Kerr, D-Wayne, said.

"This was something that was very important to our industrial prospects. I'm glad we were able to figure something out," Kerr said.

According to the bill, the fee will go back to its original rate. In the next year, the Environmental Review Commission will study the costs of protecting local waterways, if the fee should change and if the fee needs to be expanded to other parts of the state.

The commission will report its findings when the General Assembly reconvenes for its 2007 session. If any developer is charged more than $11 per pound per acre after Aug. 1, that developer will be refunded by the Division of Water Quality of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.