State OKs Wash. Co. to offer single stormwater permit system

Gary B. Gray • Jan 23, 2013 at 9:38 PM

Washington County’s Zoning Administrator’s Office and its staff have come through a state pilot program at the top of the class, becoming the first local government in Tennessee to qualify to administer its own stormwater permitting program.

The bottom line is the new situation likely will help put revenue into the business three months faster, giving a startup company a better chance of survival. Residential contractors also should be able to begin building and selling lots up to three months faster, decreasing the amount of interest paid on the project. Basically, it will speed up development, increase the tax base and make Washington County more competitive.

On Oct. 9, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation announced that Washington County was one of the first five communities to participate in its new Qualifying Local Program in which the main goal is to hand over stormwater permitting to the county and cut a two-permit system in half. The peeling away of red tape is expected to improve relationships with developers, quicken the intake of revenue and better filter water runoff.

The county’s Zoning Administrator’s Office exceeded state expectations, beating the other pilot programs set up in Bristol, Knoxville, Cookeville and Knox County to the punch.

“We start February 1, and the good news for developers is that you no longer will have to deal with both the county and TDEC,” Zoning Administrator Mike Rutherford said Tuesday while he and his staff discussed strategies. “This also allows for a more personal touch. And, it’s not really an additional load; it’s a relief. It enables us to get to the root of the problem faster.”

When plans for a subdivision roll in, developers must include methods by which erosion is controlled. The state mandates that on-site water detention must be created so that runoff to neighboring properties is no more than it was before the development is in place. As material leaves job sites, runoff will pick up contaminants no matter where it goes, so sedimentary ponds and silt fences are used.

But the new status will cut the time from the approval of the project to the grand opening by up to 90 days, said Troy Ebbert, a special projects coordinator who will now begin dealing more specifically with the county’s stormwater issues.

“This will eliminate additional effort for construction site operators and developers by providing only one set of requirements,” Ebbert said. “If we have a business or industry that wants to come in, we can help get the doors open quicker.

Developers doing projects in Johnson City and Jonesborough still must deal with both TDEC and these cities to complete the permitting process. They will have to become participants in the program to be considered for the single-permit status.

When a developer begins the process of turning in plans, they must include methods by which both the volume and quality of stormwater are controlled. The first application is made to TDEC’s field office in Johnson City. The developer pays the required fees, and TDEC reviews and approves the plans.

But the developer then must submit the same plans to the county, pay up again and wait for a grading permit. At this point, which is at the very front end, the developer has had to meet with two regulatory agencies in order to start the project.

Now they will work only with the Zoning Administrator’s Office.

The EPA mandates water quality standards to the states, and the mandates trickle down hill from there to the county. It’s a water-quality issue that comes from Washington, D.C., to Washington County. The state mandates that the county do a lot of legwork, but these things were being done twice: two sets of plans, two meetings to get instructions, so the decision now is to turn the permitting over to local governments.

The county has been performing stormwater permitting since 2003. But the new program, a joint effort by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and TDEC, is aimed at educating stockholders and allowing the county to streamline the process and concentrate on sources in the community causing erosion or pollution — in this case, industry, construction sites and farms.

County Mayor Dan Eldridge and county commissioners plan to recognize Rutherford and his staff Monday night at the County Commission meeting for distinguishing themselves.

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