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Gov. signs law easing stormwater control rules. Sierra Club says Forsyth legislator's bill could harm water quality.
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Gov. signs law easing stormwater control rules. Sierra Club says Forsyth legislator's bill could harm water quality.

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Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law Friday a state House bill that eases restrictions on stormwater permits.

House Bill 218, sponsored by Forsyth representative Jeff Zenger, cleared the state legislature Sept. 23. The law goes into effect Nov. 1.

The bill was approved 28-12 in the Senate, and the House voted 60-39 to approve two Senate amendments.

According to a bill summary by the N.C. chapter of the Sierra Club, the original version of the legislation would direct local governments to consider building expansions of no more than 20% to be minor modifications. That could mean those expansions would not need approval or would need only administrative approval.

There was some Democratic opposition to the bill based on the idea it could weaken the state’s stormwater regulations as increasing severe thunderstorms and hurricanes lead to massive flooding.

“What this bill does is enable businesses, whose buildings were built prior to stormwater requirements and watershed regulations, the option of expanding if they will capture all the water from the expansion and the existing facility and run it through a stormwater system,” Zenger said.

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“It is a net gain of clean water to the watershed, it gives the business the option of expansion rather than moving and, for municipalities, it keeps jobs and potentially adds jobs.”

The easing of the regulations would be allowed only for nonresidential properties, and remaining “vegetated buffers” — areas planted with vegetation to minimize runoff and help protect water quality — on the properties are preserved in accordance with local requirements.

The legislation allows a developer to skip filing a new site modification plan on certain projects “if the agreement has been completed within the last 15 years and there have been no changes in the permitted use of the property.”

The Sierra Club says the change could hurt water quality because it could change what kind of stormwater controls are required.

“Stormwater runoff from developed areas is important to control so that it doesn’t pollute water that we use for drinking or recreation,” the organization said.

The main Senate change to HB218, submitted by Sen. Steve Jarvis, R-Davidson, is that “stormwater runoff rules and programs shall not require private property owners to install new or increased stormwater controls” when they haven’t removed existing controls on stormwater.

Additional stormwater controls could still be required when the developer is increasing the amount of “impervious surface,” or areas where water can’t seep into the ground.

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@rcraverWSJ

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