PORTLAND — A city task force on Tuesday voted unanimously to recommend that the City Council adopt a new stormwater fee to help pay for a $170 million, multiyear project to control sewage and stormwater pollution.

The fee would be assessed on owners based on the amounts of stormwater runoff their property generates.

Owners of commercial buildings with extensive roof areas, such as warehouses and shopping malls, and of parking lots would pay the highest fees. Properties that use a lot of water, such as manufacturers and multi-unit apartment buildings, would see the greatest benefit because they now pay the highest sewer fees. The stormwater fee is expected to have little impact on homeowners.

The task force floated the stormwater fee idea to the public two weeks ago. After getting generally positive feedback, the task force on Tuesday decided against making significant changes in its three-page report to the council.

Mayor Michael Brennan told the task force that the public reaction surprised him.

“There has not been the push back I might have thought,” Brennan said. “The report has credibility.”

City Councilor Ed Suslovic said people agreed with the basic concept of charging a fee based on the amount of stormwater that runs off a property. The fee would be based on the square footage of each property’s impervious surface, such as a roof or pavement. The rate has yet to be decided.

“People felt it was the fairest way to go,” Suslovic said.

The City Council will make the final decision. The council in May will devote a workshop to the issue, Suslovic said. In June, he said, the council will decide whether to instruct city staff to develop ordinances to implement the plan, and hold a public hearing.

Suslovic said he expects the council will take a final vote next fall. If the council approves the plan, the city will then be able to borrow money based on expected revenues. The city plans to begin work on the $170 million project in 2013 or 2014.

Sewer fees would cover half the cost of the project, and the stormwater fees would pay the rest. Even if the stormwater fees are approved, sewer fees for businesses and homeowners will increase.

Portland homeowners now pay an average of $422 a year for sewer service.

In 15 years, the annual average cost without the stormwater fee is projected to double to $853. If the stormwater fee is approved, the average combined cost to homeowners of the sewer and stormwater fees would be about the same – $852.

Homeowners and businesses that make investments to reduce runoff would get some kind of a fee credit, according to the proposal.

Portland’s current sewer system works well most of the time. During light rain, the system can handle the combined sewage and extra runoff.

But during heavy rainstorms the system overflows, sending untreated sewage, industrial waste and stormwater into streams, rivers and coastal waters.

Portland’s efforts to fix the problem began in 1991, when the city entered into a consent decree to resolve its ongoing violations of state and federal pollution laws.

In the years since, Portland has been separating its sewer lines from its stormwater drainage system to minimize the amount of stormwater flowing to the treatment plant during heavy rains.

But the $170 million approved by the City Council last year will pay for different approaches aimed at reducing sewer system overflow to 87 million gallons per year. Among them would be construction of storage tanks to hold excess stormwater, which would be sent to the treatment plant later.

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at [email protected]

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