Birmingham officials balk at new DEP regs

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Supervisors unhappy with DEP’s call for some $322,000 in stormwater management projects

By Nicole Brown, Staff Writer, The Times

BIRMINGHAM — Reports from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and possible adjustments to the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) upset the townhip’s supervisors at the board meeting on Monday night. Representatives from VanDeMark & 
Lynch, Inc. gave a presentation regarding storm water discharge and the possibility of $322,000 repairs to decrease sediment erosion.

Jim Hatfield, the township engineer, explained that according to the EPA, the township “needs to improve the removal of sediments from storm water discharge.” Hatfield and his colleague Neil Carlson have already discussed the same problem with East Marlborough and will meet with Pocopson as well. All across the state, the EPA has claimed that the sediment from storm water that has entered the streams has caused a dangerous increase in bank erosion.

Pushed by the EPA, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is asking municipalities to address erosion — in this case into tributaries of the Christina River — which in the township’s case means the Brandywine and its feeder streams. As part of the process to renew the municipal storm water discharge permit, municipalities must come up with a plan to reduce the amount of sediment running into streams.

Hatfield and Carlson presented the EPA’s NPDES report to the supervisors and discussed its proposed solutions. Water that falls on Birmingham Township drains into two watersheds, the Susquehanna and the Delaware. Currently, around 530 tons of sediment is draining into these watersheds from the township every year. The EPA wants the township to reduce this number to around 200 tons in the next five years. To do this, Carlson showed a map to the supervisors that highlighted nine areas that can use repair.

Enhancing or replacing buffers along the streams would be the “most ‘bang for your buck,’” said Carlson. Other repairs could include naturalizing basins, vegetation restoration, and conversion of agricultural areas to meadows.

Supervisor William Kirkpatrick expressed his speculation with the DEP’s requirements. “These numbers are arbitrary,” he said, adding that there are no actual measurements or specific evidence of the damage cause by sediment entering the waterways.

Supervisor John Conklin agreed. “We have a lot of problems; this isn’t the only thing we have to fix,” he pointed out. The township’s budget cannot be spent entirely on this one problem that has no substantial evidence he explained.

Additionally, the supervisors stated that the purpose of the suggested repairs is unclear. “This is a lot of money, and for what?” asked Kirkpatrick. He and Conklin don’t believe that the DEP is providing the township with enough information or specific goals to meet.

Hatfield and Carlson acknowledged that the supervisors had realistic speculations, but the DEP is demanding these repairs, regardless of their disbeliefs.

Kirkpatrick also brought up the issue of land ownership. If any of these repairs are on land owned by Home Owners Associations (HOA), the township must get the HOA’s to cooperate.

Hatfield said, “the township has to ensure that these are built”; therefore, if the HOA doesn’t provide the money for the construction of the repairs, the township will have to. He added that the township would also be responsible for monitoring the repairs and maintaining them.

One area of the township that is not owned by an HOA is a field currently used for agriculture. As Carlson explained, converting this land to a meadow would be a suitable repair according to the EPA. The supervisors, however, pointed out that the Department of Agriculture would not approve that plan, as they have their own requirements for the township regarding land designated to agriculture.

The supervisors expressed their frustration, saying that these government agencies don’t even talk to each other, yet they each demand too much from the municipalities.

Kirkpatrick again pointed out that there has been “no tests and no data” to prove these repairs are necessary.

“I’m just working out my rage for a letter [to the DEP],” he said. Although a letter may make him feel better, he also recognized that the DEP really doesn’t care. It will continue to demand changes. “Their only reasoning is that it is ‘better for the environment,’ or it’s ‘green,’” he continued.

The supervisor must decided what repairs they can make and how much money they are willing to spend by September, as Hatfield and Carlson need to produce a narrative for the renewal of the NPDES permit to be approved by the DEP.

Conklin and Kirkpatrick asked what would happen if they do not comply with the DEP’s requirements. Hatfield said they might not approve the permit, the township would probably receive a violation, and they would eventually find another way to achieve their goals, which according to Kirkpatrick are “completely arbitrary.”

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