Officials, candidates line up against York County Stormwater Authority

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch
York Stands Up holds a bipartisan countywide candidates forum in the Weinstock Lecture Hall inside the Willman Business Center at York College, Monday, May 6, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

With two of three sitting county commissioners coming out against a proposal for a countywide stormwater authority, the plan is all but dead on arrival.

The York County Planning Commission will present a final report about the authority proposal to the county commissioners in late May, said county spokesman Mark Walters, but there's no guarantee the board will take it up for a vote.

"There’s been a lot of talk of a stormwater authority fee being imposed on individuals (and) farms," said Commissioner Doug Hoke at a candidates' forum Monday, May 6. "I do not favor that. I’m not in favor of more government right now."

Commissioners Chris Reilly and Hoke, who are seeking reelection, have said they're opposed to establishing an authority at this point based on the information they've reviewed.

Instead, they want to start by installing water quality monitoring stations across the county, which the county is already pursuing.

Only one of the six challengers seeking a county board seat is in favor of the stormwater authority's creation. That's Democrat Madeline Geiman.

"The costs to keep our water supply clean are soon going to be too high for individuals and municipalities to manage," she said at the candidates' forum. "And if we’re able to come up with a solution now, then we can avoid those other issues down the road."

The primary is May 21.

Farmers who attended public meetings last year overwhelmingly disapproved of the plan, which would impose a base fee of $48.90 per tax parcel, plus additional fees for agricultural and commercial land.

Commissioner Susan Byrnes, who is not seeking reelection, said she'd prefer to wait until she has seen the final report before weighing in on the authority proposal.

The benefit of an authority would be the funding collected for watershed activities and projects to implement best management practices, said Ted Evgeniadis from the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association.

"If the stormwater authority isn’t going to go through, I’d like to see what the higher-ups are going to be thinking about as far as some type of funding source in order for us to meet our goals," he said.

More:Water quality monitoring stations eyed as alternative to York County authority

More:York County commissioners will have 'array of options' to address stormwater issues

Candidates weigh in: Another Democratic candidate, Judith Higgins, said she attended several public meetings about the stormwater authority last year and that the overwhelming response from the public was negative.

"They were very concerned about the fact that there did not seem to be a solid foundation of knowledge already in place on what was being done, what the quality of the current situation was," Higgins said. "How can we start making decisions to change things if we don’t know what the foundation is?"

Higgins said she would support additional water quality monitoring and data gathering.

Democratic candidate Karen Crosby said she agreed with Hoke and that she also supports installing the water quality monitoring stations to gather more information.

"I would like them to be able to do this without raising taxes for individuals and just assess how it would improve the quality of life for people who are really affected by the stormwater issue in their area," she said.

Crosby also said she would want to explore all options before making a decision.

At an April forum, Republican Ron Smith said the county should have implemented water quality monitoring before considering a full-blown stormwater authority and that he would not support the authority proposal as a commissioner.

"The cart was put before the horse," he said.

Smith said he's all for the monitoring because it will give the county more details about exactly what and where the problems are so the county can focus its efforts.

Republican Julie Wheeler said she supports installing the water quality monitoring stations, as well as additional funding at the conservation district to address the county's nitrogen deposits.

"We've got to work with our farmers and help them put conservation plans in place," she said at the April forum.

Steve Chronister, another Republican challenger, said it would be important to listen to the planning commission's recommendations but that the county has enough authorities already.

He said the best place would be the conservation district.

"I think if we're going to do anything, it would be with that group of people, who certainly understand the issues that go with this," he said. "But creating an authority wouldn't get my vote." 

Republican Blanda Nace dropped out of the county commissioner race Wednesday to take a development job with the city.

Nace said the commissioners should establish the authority in order to prepare for future action but that the authority should not enact any fees until the county collects more data.

More:County property owners would fund proposed stormwater authority

More:Smucker, Casey affirm support of Chesapeake Bay Program after Trump's proposed cuts

Background: The water quality mandates are part of Pennsylvania's participation in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, a cooperative plan signed by six states and the District of Columbia in 2014 with the stated goal of restoring the health of the bay by significantly reducing phosphorous, nitrogen and sediment deposits in the bay by 2025.

Phosphorous and sediment deposits are no longer an issue in York County, which leaves nitrogen as the target for local cleanup efforts.

York County's current nitrogen deposits total about 11.9 million pounds a year, and that needs to decrease to 7.9 million pounds by 2025, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

"There’s a lot of work that needs to be done," Evgeniadis said. "Over half of York County streams are impaired for whatever reason, and we need to get those streams off that designated list in order for our waterways to be clean."