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Brandon Tinckham: The Wrong Solution to Water-Quality Issues

Sep 15, 2016

By: Brandon Tinckham, Special to The Sun | The Gainesville Sun

{Construction workers install a section of drain pipe for a retention pond. (File)}

Permit me an analogy. During a storm, a large tree fell on your roof and you now have a large hole in your roof and water flooding into your house. That same tree also broke a small window to your bathroom.

Rather than calling a roofer to address the gaping hole in your roof, you call someone to replace the window, ignoring the roof and the water drenching your belongings. Rightly so, your neighbor asks why you’re focusing all of your attention on fixing something that, in the big picture, isn’t really the problem.

Fixing the window is a small part of restoring your property, but fixing the roof stops most of the water dripping on everything you own.

The above illustration is an attempt to show that Alachua County’s proposed stormwater manual is focused on fixing the window and not the roof. The stated purpose of this new manual is to improve stormwater quality for new commercial and residential development by decreasing the nitrogen loading of groundwater in our region. Unfortunately, water quality is least affected by runoff from residential subdivisions or commercial properties.

In fact, less than 10 percent of all nitrogen loading is a result of stormwater retention ponds, which includes every stormwater facility constructed since Gainesville’s first residential development more than a century ago. The proposed manual would only apply to new subdivisions, leaving the lion's share of stormwater treatment facilities unchanged.

Moreover, unlike repairing the window, which didn’t do anything to solve the hole in your roof, the county’s solution to not only fails to address the major issues of water quality, it also relies on a proprietary product that is conservatively 20 times costlier than the conventional system.

To put that in perspective, applying this proprietary product to a stormwater facility would result in new home prices rising by more than $20,000 overnight. Similarly, commercial developments, including major new employment centers, could remain on the drawing board, because the cost to develop and build is no longer financially feasible.

If the real objective of this effort is to reduce nitrates and protect our groundwater, which I firmly support, we need to focus our energy and resources on the real contributors. Protecting our natural resources is important for our community and our state, but we must strike the appropriate balance to ensure opportunities for our citizens. And it most certainly should not put home ownership out of reach for the majority of our neighbors.

Alachua County officials have a responsibility to safeguard our natural resources. In the same vein, they also have a responsibility to avoid burdensome and costly regulations that threaten citizen’s ability to own homes, get better jobs and be productive members of our society.

This stormwater manual, as currently written, has the very real potential to do all of these things. Stifle development and communities stagnate. Impose costly standards to stormwater management and the innovation economy we’re all working so hard to achieve could be sidelined.

Let’s focus on fixing the roof, and then as a community we can come together and replace the window.

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Brandon Tinckham has been a resident of Gainesville since 1988, is a general contractor and is the 2016 president of the Builder’s Association of North Central Florida.

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