Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Porter County creating state template for storm fee appeals by conservationists

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Porter County is setting the stage statewide for putting into a place an appeal system of a Stormwater Management User Fee.

The Stormwater Management Board, consisting of the three County Commissioners and the County Surveyor, Tuesday adopted a resolution establishing criteria to determine whether a parcel may be eligible for a user fee reduction for property owners in the unincorporated areas.

County Commissioner Jeff Good, R-Center, said he is pleased with what his colleagues on the Stormwater Advisory Board have come up with and their efforts are breaking ground.

“I’m very satisfied in a lot of ways because we are pioneering how to give due process for people who are practicing good stormwater and clean water management measures here. We are allowing them to take part of that,” Good said. “There are a lot of people down state who are looking at this as a way to handle this issue in a more transparent way.”

Director of the County Department of Development and Stormwater Management Robert Thompson said that no other county, or municipality for that matter, has put in place a due process for an appeal of its stormwater fee.

Recommended by the Stormwater Advisory Board, property owners can receive a reduced fee if they can provide a site plan describing ways they are improving stormwater runoff on the property, demonstrate that the stormwater benefits will be protected in perpetuity, include public access and public education by having signage describing how the benefits are working on the property, as well as displaying the hours the public can access the property.

“Our program also has to see some benefits from their efforts and that is helping us with public education and outreach an public involvement,” said County Stormwater Engineer Mike Novotney. He explained that the resolution helps the County provide education to the public, one of the tenants of the federal Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) program.

Izaak Walton members speak

Members of the Izaak Walton League Porter County Chapter attended the meeting Tuesday to ask for clarification on a few points in the resolution. The Chapter is currently appealing four sets of parcels they intend to make accessible to the public.

Longtime environmentalist Charlotte Read asked how much public outreach the County has performed already and the time frame for the public to make appeals.

She also wanted to know how much information would be required for the signage.

MS4 Coordinator Rich Hudson could explain at the next meeting what public education has been done already, Good said. The time frame goes by what is stated in the ordinance creating the stormwater fee, he said.

Novotney said interpretive signage would describe in simple terms how runoff and pollutants are being treated. The language to be included on the signs would be up to the stormwater department staff and the advisory board, advised County Attorney Scott McClure.

Herb Read said he still questions the fairness of how the user fee schedule is structured.

A homeowner with less than an acre can be charged the same amount as a homeowner with 9.9 acres.

He asked if the board would consider having the user fee be based on the amount of impervious surface a property has, the same argument he has made before.

Read said “it defies common sense” why would anyone want to purchase wetlands if they have to pay a fee on them each year.

Good said the Commissioners looked at what the cost projections would be to have an impervious system and saw it would be too high a cost to have the technology and employees to sustain that kind of system, given the size and geography of the county.

The Commissioners would have been criticized for the costs, he said.

“I think we made some very good decisions. We are going to stand by those and we may tweak it. We are going to find a reasonable solution where we can all coexist together and make this work at the end of the day for Porter County,” Good said.

Gary Brown, vice-president of the Izaak Walton League Porter County Chapter, said he thinks “it is a good resolution” and told the board he is willing to work with the County but there were members who still have questions.

Economic benefits?

One question is about the criteria that the parcel cannot be providing an economic benefit to the property owner. Brown asked if fundraisers or renting space would be considered as a benefit as long as it would be to help fund preservation.

Good and McClure said that they don’t feel that would be a violation. The resolution is kept in general terms instead of listing all activities that would or would not be permitted, Good said, and individuals and groups seeking a reduced fee should not be afraid to talk about their planned activities with the board.

“I think they are worried too much. At the end of the day, what it is an education component,” he said.

Walt Breitinger, a conservationist from Valparaiso, said there are economic benefits to the county from having environmental groups provide stormwater management. Water conservation and flood control are provided and even if the organizations don’t provide an educational component, they should be entitled to some credit.

“I thank you for considering and passing a resolution for reduction in fees and I hope it is a first step towards examining this more and more. It’s wonderful that you’ve done it but maybe it’s not quite enough to make me satisfied as a conservationist. I think we need to try more to reduce those fees for the people who are providing the very service you are trying to provide,” Breitinger said to the board.

 

Posted 2/24/2017

 
 
 
 

 

 

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