Town May Face New Stormwater Regulations

BLYTHEWOOD – With no quorum at the Planning Commission meeting on Monday night, the meeting was not convened, but the two members in attendance, Chairman Malcolm Gordge and Buddy Price, informally discussed the only two items on the agenda: a pending federal mandate for the Town to manage its storm water and a pending new plat for Ashley Oaks’ Club House and Swimming Pool. Both were listed on the agenda as discussion-only items. Town Administrator Gary Parker and the Town’s Planning Consultant Michael Criss were also in attendance.

Town’s New Mandate

Gordge explained that existing federal legislation, titled Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (SMS4), an offshoot of the 1970 Clean Water Act, will impose a storm-water management program on the Town, perhaps as early as this summer. The program is legislated federally, and administered at the State level by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). It has already been imposed on larger towns and counties in the state, including Columbia and Richland County. The purpose of the program is to require the small towns in urban-designated areas to provide management, monitoring and reporting of all storm water (not including sewage) and other run off sources in the community with the intent of protecting streams, rivers and other water sources.

Gordge said he and Criss recently attended a workshop, conducted by DHEC, that gave the town government a heads up that it may be designated as one of those smaller towns that must embrace the SMS4 program.

“The designation is a result of the 2010 U.S. Census, which included Blythewood within the urban area of Columbia,” Gordge explained. He said the program is broad, comprehensive and designed to minimize the introduction of chemicals, pollution, bacteria, silt and other run off contaminants into the area’s surface and ground water.

While Criss explained that Blythewood adopted an extremely comprehensive low impact development (LID) ordinance a couple of years ago designed to work with nature to manage storm water as close to its source as possible, that ordinance primarily provides for management of runoff on new construction sites on private property, not on existing properties. He said the park and The Manor were built in compliance with that ordinance. But he said the SMS4 federal legislation addresses storm drainage and runoff from all sources in the community as they affect the whole community.

“This will be a major responsibility for the Town,” Criss said, “and we will have to complete or extend our existing LID storm water program in order to comply.”

Criss told The Voice that he expects Blythewood will receive an official letter from DHEC later this summer requiring the Town to enter the program. Criss said he and Gordge have asked DHEC to send a representative to Blythewood in late July or August to explain to the officials of the town, the media and the public what the Town’s responsibilities are regarding the program. Instead of the town government bearing the entire budget and staffing responsibilities for administering such a program, Criss said Blythewood officials might be able to negotiate an intergovernmental agreement with the County to administer the program.

“When Town Hall receives that letter from DHEC,” Criss said, “we’ll be under a timeline to comply. We will probably have six months to apply for permit coverage, then another year to develop a corresponding Storm Water Management Plan.”

Asked if existing private property land uses would be affected by the Town’s compliance with the program, Criss said they could be if, for example, the Town’s monitoring system discovers a septic system or other source is discharging contamination from private property.

“It would be the property owner’s responsibility to comply with the regulations,” Criss said.

Criss told The Voice that part of the Town’s responsibility in the program will be mapping the entire community’s storm water systems from catch basin to ponds and rivers. He said that while the Planning Commission would probably take the leadership role in fashioning recommendations for consideration by Town Council regarding the regulatory authority to implement and enforce the program on the local level, both he and Gordge said it might be beneficial to assign a task force or work group of citizens to research the implications of SMS4 more fully and help with making the recommendations to Council.

“As a small municipality,” Gordge said, “it is our job to submit a Notice of Intent (to comply with the State requirements) and be accepted by July 1, 2015. If we are approved then we get the benefit of State provided assistance, training, inspections, etc. If we are rejected we would have to prepare a case for independent control and monitoring of our storm water discharges. If we are late with our NOI, or are rejected we would be liable for any water pollution that can be traced back to the TOB.

“Another option to consider,” Gordge said, “is to combine resources with similar municipalities such as Arcadia Lakes and file a joint NOI ideally by November to allow six months for processing by DHEC.

Ashley Oaks Club House and Pool

Gordge, a resident of Ashley Oaks, explained that a new plat was carved out of the neighborhood’s common area that contains the clubhouse and swimming pool. The tract of land, he said, was owned by Mike Shelley the original developer of Ashley Oaks. When Shelley’s property was sold in lieu of foreclosure several years ago, the swimming pool passed to First Palmetto Bank, then to Crown Communities and then Essex Homes.

“To the mutual benefit and agreement of Essex Homes and Ashley Oaks HOA (Home Owners’ Association), the pool, clubhouse and the four acres on which it stands is to be deeded to the HOA since Essex has no use for it and the HOA maintains the property and amenities,” Gordge said.

The plat has already been approved by Jim Meggs, the former acting town administrator.

“The only reason it came before the Planning Commission,” Gordge said, “is to find out if anyone on the Commission had any problems with this arrangement.”

Even though the meeting was not an official meeting of the Commission, the two in attendance decided that it would not be necessary to bring the plat back for the full Commission to consider.