In Our View: Another ‘No” on Horizon?

County keeps wasting time and money appealing stormwater regulations

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Clark County commissioners and local developers are chasing wild geese again, with the same dismal hunting prospects of Elmer Fudd in his pursuit of the wascally wabbit. Unfortunately, the county’s taxpayers are having to pay for all of the spent shells .County commissioners on Thursday took their twice-denied hunt for more-lenient stormwater rules to the Washington Supreme Court. Previously, county officials were told by the state Pollution Control Hearings Board that the county’s special deal with the state Department of Ecology failed to comply with federal and state clean water laws. Then, the county lost an appeal of that ruling at the Court of Appeals on Sept. 25.

Now, this costly quest has been pushed on to the state’s highest court. There’s no telling how much public money has been poured into this chase. Staff time is being spent on such things as researching and compiling the 20-page legal petition that was filed last week.

Commissioners obviously are being encouraged by local developers to extend this unrealistic search for preferential treatment on stormwater regulations. Namely, the Building Industry Association of Clark County has joined the county in filing the court cases. The builders claim that, not only is the required National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit overly stringent, it also needlessly drives up the cost of development. That second point might be partly true, but the big question is this: Should higher development costs be paid by developers (and extended to their customers) or by the public? As we’ve said all along, taxpayers already pay too much of the cost of growth. Expecting them to fork over extra bucks for tighter stormwater regulations is the wrong approach.

At first, the 2007 requirement of the state Department of Ecology seemed impractical: Developed land must drain stormwater as slowly as it did prior to Euro-American settlement. But on closer inspection, the county’s efforts to drag this thing out look even more misguided. Clark County is the only jurisdiction in Western Washington to appeal the state DOE ruling. And in the second of the county’s two court losses, all three judges on the Court of Appeals panel rejected all four of the county’s arguments.

Meanwhile, this is becoming doubly wasteful. On the remote chance that the county wins, officials then must find a way to pay for the stormwater program. As Stephanie Rice reported in a Thursday Columbian story, that program soon will run out of money.

County officials and local developers want to mitigate stormwater problems by making improvements at sites other than where development is occurring. But the state Pollution Control Hearings Board said that strategy was not based on science, and the Court of Appeals agreed.

The Rosemere Neighborhood Association, an environmental group, has pushed local officials to meet the NPDES requirements. Some day, that likely will happen. But not as long as the county keeps wasting time and money on this wild goose chase.