October 23, 2010 - By Matt Armstrong Journal Staff Writer
CHARLES TOWN - The Jefferson County Commission received an update on the Environmental Protection Agency's evaluation of the West Virginia Watershed Implementation Plan at the commission's meeting Thursday afternoon.
The Watershed Implementation Plan is part of the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, which is a "pollution diet" with the intention of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay by curbing the amount of pollutants in the bay's tributaries.
The TMDL involves parts of West Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Alana Hartman, the eastern bay coordinator with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, submitted a draft WIP earlier this year, and she spoke to the commission about the EPA's evaluation of the draft and what can be done going forward.
"On Sept. 24, the EPA got back to us about our draft WIP and said that it was deficient, and they have all these suggestions for how we should improve it by Nov. 29," Hartman said. "If we don't there's a backstop TMDL that they will put into place."
Some of the deficiencies the EPA found in West Virginia's draft WIP included relying on "existing, largely voluntary programs with little discussion of how to increase participation" and reduce pollutants.
The evaluation also stated that the WIP lacked action plans, specific milestones or strategies to secure additional funding and resources, and that the WIP should consider how increased funding from the Chesapeake Bay Regulatory and Accountability grant could be used to fill gaps in the program.
"At this point, I don't think it's a question of a county complying. We don't really have a nutrient reduction goal or a sediment reduction goal for each county at this point," Hartman said. "What we do have are permits the DEP handles that are being made more strict, and the county seems to bear the responsibility of raising more funds to implement these more strict permits."
The DEP has until Nov. 29 to resubmit a draft WIP that will pass an EPA evaluation, and until the DEP knows what affected counties in West Virginia need to do to comply with the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, the cost is unknown, Hartman said.
"For example, wastewater treatment plants having to treat the waste more, that costs money, and normally it's the ratepayers and the types of grants that communities can get that kind of overall pay for those things," she said. "The county has a responsibility, but it's kind of broad ... it's not really a certain suite of actions that they must do by a certain time."
Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, attended the County Commission's meeting to provide information regarding the state's willingness or ability to help fund the project to make affected counties compliant.
"There's no state funding available, targeted for this Chesapeake Bay (project)," Snyder said. "There's $70 million sitting in Charleston right now in revolving fund money that could be used for this, but they're not meeting certain criteria. I need to tweak that criteria to make the Chesapeake Bay region a priority."
Following the meeting, County Commissioner Lyn Widmyer said she was concerned with how much of the financial brunt Jefferson County would have to pay in the future to be compliant with the TMDL, and what the federal government would do if the county is unable to comply.
"I think they would put a moratorium on all growth and development until such time as we meet their standards," Widmyer said.
Even though she expressed concerns, Widmyer views the project as important for both the Chesapeake Bay and local water sources.
"We're cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay by cleaning up all our local streams and waters," she said. "The Chesapeake Bay is very important, but for me living in Jefferson County, the fact that we're going to clean up our own local waters, that's a great outcome. The question is, how do we pay for it?"
Hartman said she came away from the meeting having learned about some of the local concerns in Jefferson County.
"The goal was to bring everyone up to date and for them to bring me up to date on local concerns, and I think that's exactly what happened," Hartman said. "The knowledge that local people do send letters to the County Commission about their utility bills already, and to have to increase that would be painful, those are the kinds of local things that I don't hear sitting in my office. That was valuable."
Staff writer Matt Armstrong can be reached at 304-725-6581, email@example.com