03/22/07 — Nutrient runoff fee may be delayed for another year

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Nutrient runoff fee may be delayed for another year

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on March 22, 2007 1:50 PM

Although they had hoped for a longer delay, Wayne County commissioners are supporting legislation that would put off an increase in nitrogen runoff fees along the Neuse River Basin for at least another year.

An administrative ruling had proposed to increase the fees for nitrogen runoff from development from $11 per pound per acre to $57 per pound per acre in September.

But if Senate Bill 603 is approved, the fees would not go up until at least September 2008.

The fee is intended to offset the damage runoff from construction sites does to nearby waterways. During construction, sediments such as nitrogen and phosphorus, are washed away by rain and end up in creeks and streams, and eventually, the river.

The nutrient offset fee program was established by the state Environmental Management Commission to help maintain strict nitrogen limits.

The rules limit the amount of stormwater runoff leaving the site of any new development, in hopes of reducing the amount of sediment reaching the rivers. At its inception, developers could choose to pay $11 per pound per acre on their developing property to offset the damage caused by any of the nutrients that leave that site.

But an administrative ruling last year by the state commission increased the runoff fee from $11 per pound per acre to $57 per pound per acre. Developers and county officials objected to the severe increase, saying it would bring development in Wayne to a virtual halt.

A large development could be forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars more in fees if the costs increase, they argued.

When legislators approved extending the nutrient runoff fee last year, they also instructed the Environmental Review Commission to study the costs of protecting local waterways and determine if the fee should be changed and whether the fee requirement should be expanded to include other parts of the state.

The commissioners and County Manager Lee Smith have been hoping the nutrient runoff fee increase would be postponed until 2009 to allow the commission more time to study the issue, but Smith said he is just glad legislators are considering any kind of extension.

"We'll take anything we can get," Smith said.