Costs expected to spike for York County's Chesapeake Bay cleanup coalition
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a conservation organization with the sole purpose of saving the bay, gave journalists from southern Pennsylvania a first-hand look at the bay from their workboat the Snow Goose. Wochit
Dozens of York County municipalities and the county government banded together five years ago to reduce pollution flowing into the Chesapeake Bay and to save money on the mandated cleanup effort.
Now the group of 52 governments is drafting a new five-year plan, and the costs are expected to increase — significantly in the case of some municipalities.
Local taxes will likely increase as a result, some government officials warned.
York Township, for example, has been paying slightly more than $11,000 per year as a member of the York County Stormwater Consortium, according to township manager Gary Milbrand.
Under the draft of the 2018-23 York County Regional Chesapeake Bay Pollutant Reduction Plan, York Township's share would be $217,985, he said.
“I think it’s a little bit of a burden for municipalities," Milbrand added.
Local tax increase: That money would help the municipalities remove 2.4 million pounds of sediment, phosphorous and nitrogen annually from local waterways feeding the Chesapeake Bay, according to the draft.
What municipalities pay is determined by a formula based on population, miles of streams and other factors.
While the costs vary, every municipality would see an increase under the proposed five-year plan, Milbrand said.
“It’s a jump for all participants,” he said. “It’s definitely going to have an effect on the 2018 budget.”
Milbrand said he should have a better understanding by next month of how cleanup costs will affect township residents.
Springettsbury Township Manager Ben Marchant said he is budgeting an additional $225,000 per year over the next five years for the pollution reduction plan. A portion of that money goes toward existing cleanup requirements and practices, he added.
Springettsbury pays $15,000 per year under the current five-year plan, Marchant said.
"The past five years, costs were mostly administrative in nature and were carried out by staff," he explained. "In 2018, the township will begin planning for specific improvement projects that are required in this new permit cycle. This program is still in its infancy, and budget numbers are still being developed."
Mandate: Not every municipality in York County joined — or needed to join — the consortium.
Only municipalities with an MS4 permit have to complete a reduction plan for pollution. The five-year permit is a result of the federal Clean Water Act that required municipalities in urbanized areas to improve their stormwater management programs.
The Environmental Protection Agency acts as the regulatory authority, making sure states and municipalities are following the rules.
York County Planning Commission Director Felicia Dell said the 2018 permit is "a lot more stringent."
"You can't just have a menu of projects," she explained. "The projects in this plan have to be done within the five-year time period. ... You need to show how you are going to fund all the projects. It's much more specific."
Dell said under the previous permit, the consortium pooled $1 million. For the new permit, the municipalities are being asked to commit $13 million over five years.
That money will pay for mostly project construction and some project design work, she said. The total cost of all projects is $15.6 million, she said.
The remaining $2.6 million would be funded through grants, in-kind donations and private funding, Dell said.
Pooled approach: York Township's Milbrand said he's hopeful that a regional approach could reap greater grant funding to help assist in cleanup efforts.
That's the general sentiment in Springettsbury Township as well, where officials said they expect a regional effort will be "more efficient (and) economical" than it would be if the township were to do it alone.
"The supervisors recognize that water quality is a regional issue and that there are advantages to addressing this issue through a collaborative approach in York County," Marchant said. "These advantages include a comprehensive approach to projects that will achieve greater impacts at lower costs through pooled resources and economies of scale."
The Environmental Protection Agency and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection have expressed interest in the regional approach, Marchant said, adding that York County could become a model for other areas.
Funding ignored: Marel King, the Pennsylvania director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, said the state did not look at the big picture when laying out initial cleanup plans. Funding sources were not the crux of conversations, she explained.
However, she said, recently released reports prove that cleaning up the bay's estuaries is working, and now's not the time to stop fixing the problem.
Environmental resources are limited, King said, and possible federal funding cuts are on everyone's minds.
"We are communicating to our congressional members, now is not the time to leave the foot off the gas," she said. "Keep the momentum going. These investments do work."