Philadelphia Tackles Stormwater Producers with Fees

Sunday, October 24, 2010

by Joseph N. DiStefano, PHILADELPHIA ENQUIRER, October 24, 2010

dreamstime_2852463 Rain falls on both the just and the unjust, the Christian Gospel notes.The Philadelphia Water Department doesn’t judge; it is demanding more money from all the city property owners on whom the most rain falls.Up at 10th Street and Luzerne Avenue, Stuart Parmet and his 70 workers, mostly residents of the nearby Hunting Park neighborhood, recycle boxes from Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer Inc., and other drugmakers at the former fire-damaged SEPTA trolley barn that Parmet converted into American Box & Recycling Co. during the last decade.

It’s a Philadelphia success story. But now Parmet is talking to landlords in Cinnaminson and Deptford, driven to the brink of leaving the city, he says – not by “crime, taxes, dumping, graffiti,” or other urban ills, but by Philadelphia’s new storm-water fees.

“They want me to pay $50,000 a year for God’s water to go from my roof into the sewer,” Parmet told me.

That’s more than his yearly property-tax bill, and 20 times what Parmet had been paying the city for maintaining the storm sewers that drain his 200,000-square-foot plant’s roof and his 13-acre truck yard under the old storm-water-fee system, which was based on how much city water each property used.

That seemed unjust; there’s no obvious connection between how much water you consume and how much rainwater your property dumps into the city’s storm sewers, creeks, and rivers.

And that sparked years of complaints from the Building Owners & Managers Association, which represents Center City office towers, and other buildings that use a lot of city water but aren’t wide enough to drain much rainwater into the city’s storm sewers.

In the 1990s, the Water Department created a Stormwater Charge Allocation Community Advisory Committee, with representatives from the University of Pennsylvania, community groups, big-building owners, big industries such as the former AlliedSignal and Conrail Inc., and parking-lot operator Joseph Zuritsky’s Parkway Corp., among others.

The group’s 1996 report recommended charging for storm-water drainage based on actual runoff, not city water use.

Later, the city hired an aircrew to photograph city properties, estimating building and paved areas, and assessed tens of thousands of commercial properties based on how much water they drained.

Under pressure from Environmental Protection Agency guidelines that force cities to reduce storm-runoff surge, the Water Department also agreed to ease its storm-water rates for property owners who built retention basins, used porous ground covers that let water soak through, and otherwise cut runoff. [Read rest of story]

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