Stormwater financing workshops entertain, educate

“It was too long to fit, but this talk should have been subtitled ‘this was when Terry Sullivan almost lost his job in 1996, 2008, and 2012,'” Terry Sullivan, head of Fall River’s water and sewer departments, told the group of 50 participants at our stormwater financing workshop in Taunton on October 22, referring to the political challenges of raising money for storm water.  Sullivan went on to share the story of Fall River’s stormwater fee, an improbably entertaining story, with several lessons for the municipal staff and others in the audience. Instituting a new fee is difficult. Be ready to explain why the town needs the money.  Expect complaints.  Instead of losing his job, Sullivan was able to create a mechanism for Fall River to raise sorely-needed funding for stormwater management. Stormwater fees now provide over $4M a year for operational costs such as stormdrain and culvert cleaning and maintenance, and capital costs such as combined sewer overflow repairs. Almost all cities and towns in eastern Massachusetts, as well as some areas in the western part of the state (Northampton, Springfield, Pittsfield) are subject to stormwater management requirements, with a new federal permit expected by the end of this year.  Yet in contrast to water and sewer, where customers are accustomed to paying for these services by the gallon, residents don’t understand why cleaning up stormwater benefits them, and most municipalities have no ready way to pay for stormwater management.  Good stormwater management is key to cleaning up polluted rivers, and includes storm drain cleaning, monitoring of outfalls where storm water enters streams, elimination of illicit sewer connections, installing green infrastructure (such as constructed wetlands, detention basins, and pervious pavement) and public outreach and education. However, the costs of repairing or replacing aging infrastructure can be very expensive.

Participants at Stormwater Financing Workshop in Taunton

The Massachusetts Rivers Alliance recently teamed with Bay State Roads and several other partners* to present all-day stormwater finance workshops in Marlborough, Hadley, and Taunton.  Speakers explained why stormwater management matters, reviewed the upcoming permit, and walked participants through various funding options.  In the afternoon sessions, municipal managers talked about their experiences raising revenue for storm water, and offered participants advice on what to do (and what not to do).  Explain that this fee will reduce flooding in basements.  Most people don’t care about the EPA permit. Make sure you have good pictures. This is a timely topic, and all three workshops filled to capacity.  We were encouraged to hear from several participants a few days later, seeking workshop materials to present to their boards of selectmen. We plan to present two more workshops in the spring (Cape Cod, and the North Shore).  You can find all the presentations under Resources/Library on this website. The Massachusetts Rivers Alliance wishes to extend a big thank you to our planning partners, sponsors, and speakers:

Presenters Pam DiBona of MassBays Estuary Program and Jim Laurila, Northampton’s City Engineer in Marlborough.

*Partners: Bay State Roads, Metropolitan Area Planning Council, Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District, Pioneer Valley Planning Council, The Nature Conservancy, OARS, Connecticut River Watershed Council, Mass Audubon, MassBays Estuary Program, Mass Department of Fish and Game Division of Ecological Restoration, Tighe & Bond.  Sponsors: Massachusetts Environmental Trust, Taunton River Wild and Scenic Stewardship Committee, The Nature Conservancy, and Clean Water Action.  Speakers: Alison Field-Juma, OARS; Andrea Donlon, Connecticut River Watershed Council; Cathy Bozek, The Nature Conservancy; Newton Tedder and Suzanne Warner, EPA; Julie Conroy, Metropolitan Area Planning Council, Patty Gambarini, Pioneer Valley Planning Council; Jim Laurila, City of Northampton; Mark Wetzel, Town of Ayer; Tom Hammill, City of Chicopee (ret.); Terrance Sullivan, City of Fall River; Emily Scerbo, Tighe & Bond; Pam DiBona, MassBays Estuary Program.  Special thanks to Nancy Hammett, Massachusetts Rivers Alliance; and Bill Napolitano, Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District.