Stormwater plan designed to reduce flooding, pollution

By Evan Goodenow -

Creators of Oberlin’s stormwater utility program are trying to figure out how much property owners will have to pay for infrastructure improvements to reduce flooding and water pollution and comply with federal Clean Water Act regulations.

City council members were given a progress report on program development Monday. Oberlin needs to spend nearly $938,000 annually for at least five years to make improvements and provide service, said Mark Rufener, a stormwater manager with K.E. McCartney & Associates, a civil engineering and surveying firm helping develop the program.

Oberlin currently spends nearly $391,000 on improvements and services

Rufener noted the city needs money strictly dedicated to stormwater services and improvement to prevent flooding and pollution and comply with federal and state Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

“EPA doesn’t tell you how to comply,” Rufener said. “They just tell you you have to comply.”

Oberlin is also getting program develop assistance through a partnership with the Lorain County stormwater management district. Collaboration began in early 2014. and the district is paying K.E. McCartney, Baumann said after the meeting.

The district, formed in 2011, helps communities find money for infrastructure improvements, including stormwater detention upgrades and upgrades to culverts, ditches, and pipes.

While the district can help in finding federal or state taxpayer grants for improvements, most of the money will have to be paid by business owners and homeowners, Rufener said.

He said the most common billing method is based on how much properties contribute to stormwater runoff based on their hard surfaces known as “impervious areas.”

Rates will be calculated by measuring 400 properties, including driveways, roofs, and sheds to develop the average square footage of hard surface. The calculation will be used to establish an “equivalent residential unit.”

Unit charges are usually between$12 and $120 annually, based on how much a community needs to raise, Rufener said. For example, if an equivalent residential unit were determined to be 2,500-square feet and each unit cost $10, the owner of a property with 10,000-square-feet of impervious area would pay $480 annually.

After rates are established, Rufener said council needs to decide whether billing should be done by the city or county.

Acting city manager Sal Talarico said it would save the city money if billing were done by the county.

Noncompliance would be costly. Rufener said federal EPA administrative penalties are up to $125,000.

Civil violations are up to $25,000 per day and polluters who knowingly endanger the public face jail terms. Rufener said the city needs to aggressively seek out polluters, such as anyone dumping oil into a storm drain, and ensure its municipal water system is well-maintained.

Questioned by councilman Bryan Burgess, Rufener said Oberlin has been out of compliance for “a while.” However, Jeff Baumann, public works director, said while there is room for improvement there are no areas where Oberlin is “egregiously out of compliance.”

Program recommendations are being made to council by a technical advisory committee comprised of representatives from the city, K.E. McCartney, and the public utilities commission.

Baumann said recommendations are expected to be completed late next year or in early 2018.

“Nothing is etched in stone,” council president Ron Rimbert said. “We have a lot of big decisions to make.”

Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or GoodenowNews on Twitter

By Evan Goodenow