Stormwater agreement needs a constant watch

newsroom@islandpacket.comMay 8, 2014 

STAFF GRAPHIC

Trust, but verify.

That old Russian proverb is good advice. It is needed today in Beaufort County, just as it was when President Ronald Reagan made it famous during his Cold War negotiations with the Soviet Union.

We trust a new environmental agreement between Beaufort County and the developer of the Bluffton Gateway shopping center. The agreement states that no new stormwater runoff will result from construction of two big-box stores on a 66-acre tract at the intersection of U.S. 278 and S.C. 46 in Bluffton.

That would be a major achievement because appropriate management of stormwater runoff is crucial to the future of Beaufort County, where natural resources are the backbone of the economy.

Now the Beaufort County Stormwater Management Department must verify that the stormwater retention devices are in good working order and producing the promised results -- both today and in perpetuity.

The development agreement between the county and Jaz Development LLC of Atlanta drew attention because it stated the developer could exceed the county's goal on total impervious surfaces on the land. That language was removed, which is good because it could have indicated to future developers that the goal isn't important.

We thank County Council member Tabor Vaux of Bluffton for helping make it a public issue.

As the county continues its positive evolution on stormwater management, County Council should turn that goal into a hard fact of the law. If it is important that impervious cover be limited to 10 percent -- and it is because it mimics natural conditions -- it should be a law, not a goal.

Impervious surfaces -- such as roads, parking lots and rooftops -- increase stormwater runoff and increase its chances of being contaminated. Stormwater runoff is probably this region's greatest environmental challenge.

Fortunately, Beaufort County now has one of the toughest stormwater management laws in the country.

The ordinance is fair. It includes flexibility on impervious surfaces. It seeks 10 percent "effective" impervious cover. That means the actual cover can be higher, but when best management practices are put in place, the stormwater goal is on target.

Runoff cannot exceed what it was before development. That is among many specific requirements in the ordinance that address volume control -- even in rain storms -- and water quality.

Beaufort County -- and all counties within the Port Royal Sound estuary -- need the nation's highest standards. So do the municipalities.

Other jurisdictions should follow the lead of Beaufort County.

Existing development agreements, particularly in the town of Bluffton, need to be retrofitted to include today's higher standards to control stormwater runoff.

And what developers say they will do, and what they are required to do, must be constantly verified.

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