Berlin Adjusting Stormwater Regulations to New State Rules

BERLIN- A public hearing on new stormwater regulations in Berlin calling for the use of environmental site design (ESD) attracted a single speaker, who asked that the  Berlin Town Council add provisions to the regulations calling for few waivers, more recognition of impaired waterways, and more public accountability.

Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips had a long list of additions she would like to see to the proposed regulations, which would better protect water quality in the Coastal Bays.

“When it rains, what comes off the buildings, off the streets goes down the drain and out to Newport Bay,” said Phillips.

The approval of Berlin’s new stormwater regulations, as required by the state of Maryland, is a step in the right direction, Phillips said, but she added, she is disappointed in the recent changes made by the Maryland General Assembly.

Phillips said she is concerned that the law will allow waivers of the legal requirements, and asked that those waivers be kept to a minimum, and that ESD be kept a priority.

She also asked the town council to add some provisions to the stormwater regulations, including the identification of impaired waters downstream of the town’s stormwater run-off in addition to identifying impaired waters adjacent to the town.

ESD means that run-off water should be controlled and kept onsite, she said.

Phillips also asked that the town consider stormwater issues when the comprehensive rezoning is undertaken, once the new Berlin Comprehensive Plan is complete.

Phillips offered the town a stormwater flowchart to guide the town and developers to meet ESD concepts.

“I’d like to see incorporation of that ESD flowchart into the review process,” Phillips said.

The town should require disapproval of development plans if they do not use environmental site design principles in the concept or site design plan, Phillips said.

“This is a new concept. It’s going to be hard to change some people’s minds,” Phillips said.

If the town and local stakeholders want to get serious about reducing the flow of sediment, heavy metals, nutrients and other pollutants into local waters, the town needs to not be afraid to demand ESD use, Phillips felt.

She also asked Berlin to add language to the ordinance allowing for public review of development plans when submitted.

“I would like to encourage the town to think about publishing annually a report,” said Phillips.

Such a report, she explained, would look at all development projects in the town and show the percent of those developments which fully followed ESD principles and those that failed to use ESD principles as much as possible.

The community needs to know how well the new ordinance is being implemented, Phillips said.

Berlin Mayor Gee Williams said that the town council had just gotten the most recent updates and that they would take the changes home, look them over, and consider amending the regulations at the next council meeting.

The most recent changes came down on the last day of the General Assembly session, April 12, the same day as the town council meeting.

Williams proposed holding a series of workshops for stakeholders and staff on how to implement the new regulations in a fair and equitable manner.

The new stormwater regulations, Williams said, call for ESD to be used ‘to the maximum extent practical’, which will call for judgment to be used in every situation.

“In the beginning, we’re just going to have to rely on our own best judgment based on limited experience,” Williams said.

With the ink not yet dry on new state regulations, no one knows enough yet to start changing the legislation, he said.

“Clearly, everything we’re doing related to wastewater we have the same goals related to stormwater,” said Williams.

Phillips urged town officials to put its stormwater management goals clearly in Berlin’s new ordinance.

“Obviously, being in the ordinance itself is the best way to achieve completion and achieve your goal,” Phillips said.

The Maryland Stormwater Consortium, of which Phillips is a member, would be glad to assist with speakers for the town’s workshops or in other ways, she said. Williams agreed the town should attempt it.

“I don’t think it will be easy. I don’t think it will be impossible either,” said Williams.

Sustained economic growth needs to be done in an environmentally responsible way, with costs kept reasonable for residents and developers, Williams said.

The town council did not hold a vote on the regulations Monday night.  The vote must be held at the next town council meeting on April 26. Under state law the new stormwater regulations must be passed by May 4.