by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
Mayor Williams Responds to Stormwater Start Up Questions

Huntington residents have one more chance to provide input on the proposed Stormwater startup program proposed by Huntington Mayor Steve Williams.

Huntington City Council holds the second reading Monday, Jan. 13 at 7:30 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall.

During a public hearing last week, numerous residents vowed not to pay the fee.  

However, when council in 2011 asked the Wolfe Administration to develop  a  “blueprint” of a stormwater utility. Sherry Wilkins, then MS4 coordinator for the State of WV, told council , “it won’t go away . It’s part of the clean water act.”  Ms. Wilkins agreed such plans are “politically unpopular,” but the City of Hurricane prevailed on a suit forcing inhabitants outside the city limits to pay storm water utility fees.

Wilkins has since been named Huntington’s Stormwater Director.

Charleston started a utility that spent $1.8 million dollars for mapping and another $750,000 for staffing.  At that time Kit Anderson, assistant public works director in Huntington, told council the city could come up with a “rougher” version.

Mayor Williams has tiered proposed start-up fee schedules which would place most residential customers in the $4 to $7 per month range. Provisions are made for some hardship reductions.

Mayor Williams in a recent Q and A with HNN  clarified  aspects of his administration's proposal, which included stressing that the proposal is for a start-up storm water program, not a "utility," as was proposed under the previous administration. That previous proposal did not come to a council vote due to lack of public input , administratively top heavy , and a lack of shovel ready projects.

Q: You have stated there are about 18,000 Municipal Fee account about 90% of which are residential?

A: There are 18,819 municipal service fee accounts.  There are no exemptions to the Stormwater user fee, except the WV Division of Highways.  WVDOH is also a regulated small MS4.  State Code §8-16-21 requires all governmental entities to pay for stormwater services.  Non-profits are not exempt. 

Q:  Council members  have unsuccessfully proposed carving the fee structure downward , but realistically, how would the “utility” be funded as infrastructure improvement projects are added?

A: We are not building a utility. We are building a street flooding mitigation program. The program is structured to immediately address the cleaning and repair of catch basins and storm sewer lines and fund a regularly-scheduled street sweeping service which is currently not being offered.

Q: Then, the proposed start up has nothing to do with untreated rainwater reaching the river untreated and/or separation of the systems (sewage, storrmwater) to prevent raw sewage from reaching the river?

A: The entire focus of the stormwater startup program is to mitigate street flooding.

Q: You discussed that the program will address regulatory issues such as illicit discharges and erosion. What actions are now taken?

A: Currently, the Stormwater Division is providing review, approval and inspections of new and redevelopment sites, and conducts inspections at construction sites for sediment and erosion control.  The Department of Public Works, with assistance from the Stormwater Division, also reviews and approves drainage ordinances and policies that relate to new and redevelopment.

Q: Constituent challenges have placed financial decisions of your first year in office under scrutiny. How do you justify new hiring knowing that the budget surplus would be eaten by the impending stormwater necessities?

A: The vision for this fiscal year was set in March 2013 when City Council unanimously approved the budget. Furthermore, increasing collections was one of the pillars of this budget and, as I have reported to council, our strategy is working.

Q: The New York Times in their 2008 Toxic Water series, see: Pollution Grows with Little Fear of Punishment and listed hundreds of WV cities with in some cases hundreds of violations, including 151 at the City of Huntington Waste Water Treatment Plant.  Have any of these been corrected and are they targets of the Stormwater startup?

A: This program has nothing to do with wastewater or the wastewater treatment plant. This is a start-up program that is intended to reduce or alleviate street flooding in several areas of our city.