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Harford County has Multiple Stormwater Remediation Projects in the Works

Aug 30, 2016

By: David Anderson | Contact Reporter | The Baltimore Sun – The AEGIS

{Among the stormwater remediation projects planned by the county in the next year is a retrofit at the Anita C. Leight Estuary Center in Abingdon, including pervious paving materials, rain gardens and landscaping, plus educating visitors about stormwater remediation. (Courtesy of Anita Leight Estuary)}

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Harford County is using a mix of bond, grant and general funds – leveraged by redirected recordation tax revenue – to design and build a series of stormwater remediation and watershed restoration projects to help project local waterways that feed the Chesapeake Bay.

The county has spent the past year and half completing the first phase of three watershed restoration projects in the greater Bel Air area, according to county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby.

Construction on four others is slated to start this year and in 2017 – the work is expected to be complete by the spring of 2018. Fourteen more stream restoration projects are in the design phases, Mumby said.

The cost is covered by state grants and bond funds. A portion of the revenue collected through the recordation tax, which is paid to record a real estate transaction in the county land records, is used for debt service on the bond funds, according to Mumby.

Harford County Barry Glassman instituted the policy, with the County Council's approval, in early 2015. Glassman repealed the state's maligned stormwater remediation fee, or "rain tax," and used 55 cents of the recordation tax rate of $3.30 per $500 of consideration as an alternate funding stream. That portion had been used for water and sewer debt service dating to the early 1980s.

"We did it with an existing revenue source, rather than an additional tax," Mumby said.

She said recordation tax revenue can be used for debt service, and "in some cases is just cash paid for products or services."

The projects are not a direct response to elevated levels of fecal bacteria found in local waterways after rain storms during the summer, as indicated by water tests funded by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Such projects are required under federal and state mandates laid out in the county's state-issued municipal separate storm sewer system, or MS4, permit to mitigate the impact of stormwater runoff pollution.

"We're pursuing these projects because they have an overall positive impact on waterways," Mumby said Monday.

She noted the county and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have "mutual goals" of improving water quality.

The nonprofit CBF, based in Annapolis, funded testing of waterways throughout Central Maryland, including Harford County's Deer Creek, Falling Branch and Kilgore Falls, Grays Run, Lilly Run, Otter Point Creek and Swan Creek.

The tests were conducted by local volunteers led by faculty from area community colleges, including Harford Community College. Tests conducted the day after a significant rain showed bacteria levels well above the federal limit for safe swimming.

"We're really not in a position to verify the processes and procedures that this organization went through to come up with their findings," Mumby said. "Certainly, this kind of thing does happen when large amount of rain comes to an area."

She said county officials "are doing what we can here within the framework established by the regulatory authorities to improve the water quality in Harford County and the downstream waters."

The Town of Bel Air paid a $35,000 fine to the EPA earlier this year following stormwater management violations revealed during a 2014 audit of town facilities. The EPA's last stormwater audit for Harford County was in 2009, according to Mumby.

The county budgeted $6 million in fiscal 2016 for stormwater remediation and watershed restoration; $5.8 million of that was slated for bond funding, and the rest was "paygo" money from the county budget, Mumby said.

About $2.1 million in recordation tax revenue was redirected to leverage bond funding last year.

The county has budgeted $6.1 million this year, with $5.9 million covered by bond funds and the rest from the recordation tax. The county expects to have about $2.1 million from the recordation tax available, according to Mumby.

The projects that are under construction this year are happening near the Festival at Bel Air shopping center, the Country Walk community off West Wheel Road and Lower Wheel Creek. The second phase of construction is starting this year, according to Mumby.

Workers are retrofitting existing facilities at all three locations, as well as stream restoration in Lower Wheel Creek. They are all part of the Bush River watershed – the Bush River is a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.

The total cost of these projects is $3 million; more than half of the cost has been covered by grants, Mumby noted.

Upcoming projects include retrofits at the Anita C. Leight Estuary Center in Abingdon, including pervious paving materials, rain gardens and landscaping, plus educating visitors about stormwater remediation. The county also plans to restore 3,675 feet of Bear Cabin Branch and restore and reforest 12.6 acres of nearby wetlands, restore 2,385 feet along Foster Branch in the Dembytown neighborhood in Joppa, as well as restore 1,250 feet of nearby stream and upgrade two stormwater management facilities at Ring Factory Elementary School, according to Mumby.

The county will fund part of these projects with a $2 million grant it recently received from the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund, which is operated by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

"We're pursuing additional grant funding, and we will continue to do that," Mumby said.

Construction on the Estuary Center project is scheduled to start this fall; construction at Ring Factory will start next spring, and construction on the Bear Cabin Branch project is scheduled to start in the fall of 2017 – the county recently received bid offers for Foster Branch, according to Mumby.

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