published Sunday, March 28th, 2010

Runoff raises concern


by Kelly Jackson
Audio clip

Don Cope

DALTON, Ga. -- Officials are working to mitigate flooding and pollution caused by stormwater runoff and to develop a system to pay for stormwater projects.

"The more roofs, roads and parking lots you get, the more flooding you get and the more pollution you get discharged directly into the (water)," said Charlie Bethel, former Dalton city councilman and a member of the North Georgia Regional Water Council.

Federal law requires that the city have a stormwater management program because of its size and density, but Mr. Bethel said now is the time for Dalton to be even more aggressive on stormwater problems.

"Either we can be involved in designing and developing solutions that work for us, or the state and federal governments are going to impose them in the future," he said. "It's not a problem that will go away."

Dalton Utilities started managing stormwater for the city about two years ago, said utility President and CEO Don Cope.

The utility is working to fix "legacy issues," or stormwater problems created from past developments, he said. It's also trying to develop and maintain infrastructure to manage stormwater better for the future, he said.

"On a going-forward basis, we're trying to educate the public about the need for stormwater management and the need to create a utility that charges for the service," Mr. Cope said.

So far, Dalton Utilities has spent about $2.5 million on stormwater management for the city, he said. Property owners in the city eventually may pay monthly stormwater utility fees based on the amount of nonpermeable surface on their property, he said.

Dalton Mayor David Pennington said the city will work with the utility to determine the best way to finance stormwater projects.

Mr. Cope said officials had hoped to create a regional stormwater utility for the Conasauga River Basin, but Murray and Whitfield counties opted out.

"The state of Georgia would like for us, in as many cases as possible, to create regional, multi-jurisdictional stormwater utilities," said Mr. Cope. "If Dalton alone takes action to address and manage stormwater, it will be positive, but (it) won't have near the impact as if all those political subdivisions ... took action together."

Dalton Councilwoman Denise Wood said Dalton Utilities "would be the logical entity to provide technical expertise for the regional stormwater authority."

But Whitfield County Commission Chairman Mike Babb said he and other commissioners would be concerned if Dalton Utilities were in charge.

"We don't think Dalton Utilities, being a private entity, has taxing rights," he said. "If you pay a stormwater utility fee, then that's kind of like a tax. If you're going to require people to pay via tax, they have to have some recourse to (elected officials)."

County Commissioner Randy Waskul said that, for now, the county has its own program in place for managing stormwater.

He said stormwater needs to be addressed on a regional level, but there needs to be more discussion of how to structure the utility and how to pay for it.

Murray County Commissioner David Ridley was not immediately available for comment.

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