Watershed Plan Costs Staggering

SALISBURY — Costs for developing a Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) in Salisbury seem intimidating right now, admitted Wicomico County Transportation and Long Range Planner Keith Hall, but he told the City Council that the current estimated $225 million cost will likely be reduced substantially in the years before the WIP is required to meet final goals in 2025.

“I understand the price tag is daunting,” he said. “It’s something that we hope through various creative and innovative solutions and critical thinking and appropriate planning that those costs can be significantly reduced. However, at this time, that’s what we’re working with.”

The WIP will be required by executive mandate and is aimed at reducing nutrient levels in the Chesapeake Bay. Generally, the plan covers a number of different criteria, though Hall told the council that Salisbury’s urban nature means it will only have to focus on a few of those.

“This is looking at four sectors: wastewater treatment, septic systems, stormwater management, and agriculture,” said Hall. “As it applies to the city of Salisbury…it’s looking at the wastewater treatment center as well as the stormwater runoff sector.”

Because of the city’s unique position as well as the fact that Salisbury has a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, Salisbury’s plans will be held under a microscope by state agencies, according to Hall.

“Salisbury is going to be scrutinized a little differently than other jurisdictions in the county,” he said.

The goal is to greatly reduce nutrient reduction in the bay by 2025, with results showing as early as 2017. While many counties and municipalities in Maryland have groaned about the costs of the program, Hall told the council in no uncertain terms that the WIP is a reality.

“This is not going away. This is an executive order from the president. It is very clear what the expectations are,” he said.

Hall admitted that some of the numbers might change in the next decade but that significant nutrient reduction in the Chesapeake will certainly be required. He reiterated that the costs might seem impossible right now but said that when estimates were made a lot of assumptions were factored in.

“I understand the price tag is rather enormous. For the city of Salisbury, we’re looking at planning costs in the neighborhood of about $225 million,” he said. “Keep in mind that these costs don’t represent what the actual costs will be.”

For example, Hall explained that the price tag was estimated on the assumption that the city would have to purchase new land for whatever programs they implement to reduce runoff and treat wastewater issues. By using land Salisbury already owns whenever possible, Hall predicted that the costs will drop. Other money saving maneuvers could include seeking out partnerships or using cheap but effective forms for battling runoff like tree planting.

Councilmember Laura Mitchell asked Hall if the city is getting behind schedule by not budgeting for the WIP in FY2014. In Hall’s opinion, the city is right on track.

“The planning is being done and the preliminary cost estimates are being done,” he told Mitchell.

As planning continues in 2014, Hall said the council will need to start to think about the steps that follow such as prioritizing projects and beginning pre-engineering.

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