Wednesday, March 12, 2014
By Randy Billings firstname.lastname@example.org
PORTLAND - The city will release new details this week of a plan to charge property owners a stormwater fee for the amount of pavement, roof coverage and other hard surfaces on their land. Both homeowners and business owners will pay, although businesses with large parking lots and building footprints -- and that shed more rainwater -- will get hit harder than other landowners.
James Grattelo, owner of Joker’s Family Fun and Games on Warren Avenue, says the stormwater fee is a big issue for his business, which has a large impervious surface.
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
The details include a preliminary estimate of the future stormwater rate, which will raise money for costly projects to keep dirty storm runoff out of waterways.
The fee structure and timeline for rolling it out are still being discussed by the City Council's Finance Committee, and the actual rates ultimately must be set by the full City Council. The fee was intended to kick in this winter, but the launch is now expected to be pushed back.
According to preliminary estimates, 114 commercial property owners could see a fee increase of more than $5,000 a year. Eleven property owners may see an annual increase of $25,000 or more, including Unum Corp., which could pay an additional $30,500 a year.
Homeowners could pay between $6 and $24 a month, depending on the size of rooftops, driveways and other solid surfaces.
Property owners will be able to reduce their fee by eliminating pavement or reducing storm runoff with rain gardens, rain barrels and other measures.
The stormwater fee is designed to pay for projects to clean up streams and brooks that already fall below standards set by the federal Clean Water Act, and to prevent polluted water from running off roads and parking lots into the city's streams and coastal waters.
The new fee is a big concern to businesses such as Joker's Family Fun and Games on Warren Avenue. The property has 100,000 square feet of building space and a 300-vehicle parking lot in the urban-impaired Capisic Brook watershed, said president and co-owner James Grattelo.
Gratello said when he recently expanded the sports dome complex on the site, city officials alerted him to the new fee and estimated then that he would have to pay up to $30,000 a year for the several acres of impervious surface.
"I can't afford to pay $30,000," Grattelo said. "You'd have to pay $30 for a pizza at Joker's to pay for this. That's ridiculous."
For the past several years, Portland has been working on a new fee to upgrade its stormwater system. The city is targeting solid -- or impervious -- surfaces such as rooftops, driveways and parking lots because they shed rainwater full of pollutants such as oil, anti-freeze and litter into waterways during rainstorms.
The council recently approved $170 million in stormwater and sewer upgrades over the next 15 years, and the new fee aims to spread those costs fairly among all property owners.
Currently, all stormwater improvements are funded through sewer fees, which are based on water usage.
However, there are large property owners who don't use a lot of water and don't pay a lot of sewer fees, but have large parking areas and building footprints that contribute to pollution problems.
"Right now the system is inequitable," said Ian Houseal, the city's sustainability coordinator and assistant to the city manager.
There will be winners under the new stormwater program, including multi-unit apartment units and industrial properties that use a lot of water but have a small impervious footprint. When the stormwater fee goes into effect, sewer rates should drop, Houseal said.
By shifting costs from the sewer bill to a new stormwater fee, Barber Foods, for example, could save an estimated $113,000 a year, while Oakhurst Dairy could save an estimated $107,000, according to preliminary estimates from the city. Those businesses would still pay the new stormwater fee, but their sewer fee would drop by much larger amounts.
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