Bel Air will pay EPA $35,000 for 2014 stormwater management violations

Bel Air is currently up to code on stormwater management program

The Environmental Protection Agency won few friends among Bel Air's town commissioners Monday, despite their unanimous approval to pay a $35,000 fine the agency levied against the town for several violations of federal stormwater management regulations.

The violations were revealed during an inspection two-and-a-half years ago.

"I can certainly see why people don't like the EPA," Commissioner Robert Preston remarked shortly before he and his four fellow commissioners voted to pay the fine.

Town Administrator Jesse Bane said the EPA inspection happened Jan. 14 and 15, 2014. Inspectors determined the town had failed to develop procedures to "field screen" stormwater outfalls and identify sources of illegal pollutant discharges, failed to create a stormwater management plan for the Department of Public Works facility on Churchville Road and failed to file annual stormwater management reports for 2012 and 2013.

The EPA allowed the town to file a settlement agreement, rather than face enforcement actions and the risk of $16,500 per-day fines, Bane said.

He noted town and EPA officials negotiated the settlement from an initial amount of $49,500 to $35,000. Bel Air has also taken multiple steps to address the violations.

"This is above and beyond what they required, to make sure in the future that there are no problems with any future inspections," Bane, who was not working for the town when the violations were discovered, said.

Since February 2014, the town has hired a contractor to develop a stormwater management plan for the DPW site; has enacted a June 2014 ordinance regarding "illicit discharge detection and elimination" – and later developing policies and procedures to carry out that ordinance; has obtained a general discharge permit for stormwater management associated with industrial activities, namely the public works building, from the Maryland Department of the Environment; has purchased licenses to use ArcGIS mapping for more accurate maps of all town stormwater outfalls; has filed a 2014 annual report with the MDE; and has hired a contractor to inspect half of the town's outfalls by July 31.

The second half of the outfalls will be inspected by July 31, 2017, Bane said.

Town officials will also request funding in the fiscal 2018 budget to hire a public works staff member responsible for inspecting outfalls and investigating illegal discharges.

"I think this is something we're all not thrilled about," Commissioner Brendan Hopkins, who was elected last November, said of the fine. "I think we could have used this money, obviously, in other places."

Hopkins acknowledged the town's efforts to fix the violations.

"In listening to the steps you've take to make sure that this doesn't happen again, that's the biggest thing at this point," he told Bane.

Commissioner Patrick Richards, who was elected in 2013, called the fine and the process by which it was levied "ridiculous." He praised the efforts to mitigate "our risk and exposure under this process."

"I think it's also the right path," he said.

Preston, who is the longest-serving commissioner with 14 years on the town board, said he thinks "we could have accomplished the same thing without the fine," regarding the town's improvements.

"I think it's kind of on their head that we dislike the EPA," he said.

Preston said later that local leaders should tell state and federal officials about the financial impact such fines could have on small municipalities.

"I think Congress should give them all the money they need, but they don't need our money," he said of the EPA.

Roy Seneca, a spokesperson for the EPA's Mid-Atlantic office in Philadelphia, confirmed Monday that the agency conducted an inspection of Bel Air's stormwater management program in 2014, but he declined to comment further on the case.

"We have been in discussions with them," he said of Bel Air officials.

Communities must meet six criteria to pass the federal audit of polices and procedures to manage stormwater runoff pollution, Public Works Director Steve Kline said during a commissioners' work session last week. Kline was the deputy public works director when the EPA inspection occurred. His predecessor as DPW chief, Randy Robertson, retired in mid-2014 after almost 10 years with the town.

Communities with less than 100,000 people, such as Bel Air, Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, are classified as Phase II communities under federal regulations governing stormwater runoff. Communities with larger populations, such as Harford County, as classified as Phase I.

Phase I and Phase II communities receive MS4 permits from the Maryland Department of the Environment. The MS4, or Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System, permits regulate local programs to prevent stormwater runoff pollution.

The six criteria listed in the permit, called "minimum control measures," include public education and outreach, getting the public involved in developing stormwater management programs, having a plan to handle illegal discharges, having plans to control runoff at construction sites – one plan for during construction and one for after construction – and developing a program to prevent runoff pollution from municipal facilities, according to EPA guidelines posted online.

"We look to see if they're complying with the permit," the EPA's Seneca said.

Jurisdictions must file annual reports on their stormwater management programs, and they are subject to EPA inspections, according to Seneca.

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