Monday, November 29, 2021
Nov. 29, 2021

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State panel to hear challenge to county’s stormwater plan

Pollution Control Hearings Board sets 4 days for arguments

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Clark County’s controversial plan for managing stormwater runoff will be argued before the state Pollution Control Hearings Board.

A four-day hearing is scheduled to start Sept. 28 in Lacey.

The board hears appeals from the Department of Ecology, and after the state approved the county’s stormwater plan last year a challenge was filed by Earthjustice. The Seattle law firm represents three environmental groups: the Rosemere Neighborhood Association, Columbia Riverkeeper of Hood River, Ore., and Northwest Environmental Defense Center, based at Lewis & Clark College in Portland.

While the specifics of the county’s stormwater plan will be argued, the outcome could have wider implications.

The board indicated in an Aug. 27 ruling that it wants to hear arguments on state vesting laws and how lenient all counties should be able to be with developers.

Currently, an applicant can build under the rules in place at the time the application was filed. This lets builders avoid any new rules that may be adopted later, even if the rules are adopted before anything is actually built.

“This is a major change for the state as a whole, although how exactly it plays out remains to be seen,” said Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman.

As for the county’s contested plan, it was developed in a compromise with the Department of Ecology, which oversees the federal Clean Water Act.

Stormwater runoff is federally regulated as a major source of water pollution because it contains toxic metals, oil, grease, pesticides, herbicides, bacteria and nutrients that run off buildings and pavement into streams.

‘Runoff standard’

Last year, the county settled a long-running feud with the state over how far it must go to reduce polluted runoff. The state agreed that the county did not have to meet the state’s “presettlement runoff standard,” which requires that newly developed sites drain as slowly as they did prior to Euro-American settlement.

Under the county’s plan, the developer has to ensure that flow conditions do not change, and the county will make up the difference by restoring flow conditions elsewhere in the same watershed.

Kevin Gray, the director of Clark County’s Department of Environmental Services, said in July that the county has enough money to pay for restoration for approximately three years, depending on the rate of development.

At that point, it will be up to Clark County commissioners to decide whether developers or property owners should bear the burden of restoration costs.

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