A stricter state stormwater permit that will cost local governments thousands of dollars - if not millions - is on schedule, after an appeal by Ferndale and other small cities was resolved in the state's favor.
Minor changes to the requirements that Bellingham, Lynden, Ferndale and parts of Whatcom County must meet are up for public comment until Oct. 6. The permit will be finalized by the end of the year, according to the Department of Ecology.
"The (Pollution Control Hearings Board) really affirmed Ecology's permits," said Abbey Stockwell, municipal stormwater specialist at Ecology. "There was not much that was (given) back to us to change."
The permit requires cities and counties with storm systems to take more water samples and file more reports to the state. Eventually, it will require all new development to meet low-impact standards that reduce stormwater runoff.
Stormwater is the biggest polluter of Puget Sound, according to Ecology. Runoff collects pollutants from streets and parking lots, and can take them, untreated, directly into streams.
Whatcom County officials said in July they expect to spend $1.4 million in 2015 to meet the new permit requirements. County staff has proposed hiring 61/2 new employees dedicated to stormwater maintenance, inspection and public education.
Ferndale, which spent $15,000 in 2012 to join the unsuccessful appeal, will consider hiring a stormwater technician in mid-2015, at an annual cost of $80,000 in salary and benefits, city Finance Director Mark Peterson said.
The appeal, filed by 25 cities and counties, cited the permit's high cost as one of the reasons the cities were claiming the permit was unreasonable. The permit also adds unnecessarily to the cost of development, the appellants said, slowing economic growth.
"These failures are critical, and their collective impact is extreme," said the initial appeal, filed Aug. 30, 2012. "Each of the coalition members is experiencing severe financial challenges, and many coalition members are struggling to fund even basic public safety services."
Stormwater pollution cannot be ignored, Ecology's Stockwell said in response.
"We recognize that stormwater management is a challenge. It is expensive," she said. "But it is not something we can relax. ... We all need to find a way to work together and work harder towards clean water."
Comments on the changes to the state stormwater permit made as a result of the appeal should be emailed to SWPermitComments@ecy.wa.gov.