City refines position on Jordan rules rewrite

Feb. 07, 2013 @ 06:54 PM

City Council members have endorsed a position paper that opposes and supports some of the proposals coming from interests in the Greensboro area that want to see changes to the state anti-pollution rules that govern the Jordan Lake watershed.

Drafted by administrators in the Public Works Department, the paper’s key points of disagreement with the views coming out of Greensboro concern the rules’ treatment of new development.

It disagrees with proposals from the Piedmont Triad Regional Council and the Triad Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition to create grandfather provisions that would exempt redevelopment projects from restrictions on hard, “impervious” surfaces.

Public Works and as of Thursday the council also are opposed to the idea of changing the rules to allow “stream piping,” the installation of culverts to channel a stream’s flow.

City officials previously had said they wouldn’t support a repeal of the rules, which are designed to reduce deposits of two key nutrients into a lake that’s already serving as Durham’s backup source of water.

The two Greensboro-area groups have also agreed they won’t recommend repeal of the rules, which the N.C. General Assembly approved in 2009.

Officials throughout the extensive Jordan watershed are preparing for a battle in the current session of the General Assembly.

The 2009 vote came while the House and Senate were still controlled by Democrats. Subsequent elections put Republicans in charge, and Greensboro officials led by that city’s Republican mayor, Robbie Perkins, have made it clear they want changes.

Perkins – a developer media reports indicate has been having financial problems – has argued that the rules put his community at a competitive disadvantage relative to the Triangle.

Legislators acting at Greensboro’s behest have already stretched out some compliance deadlines.

The 2009 rules target emissions of nitrogen and phosphorous, nutrients that when present in water in excessive quantities fuel the growth of algae. The algae in turn crowd out other forms of life, and also complicate water treatment for those who draw drinking water for the lake.

Engineers control nutrient emissions in a variety of ways. When it comes to development, restrictions on hard, water-shedding surfaces and the installation of detention ponds are among the most common techniques.

Both, however, raise costs for developers.

The General Assembly got down to business on Jan. 30. As of Thursday afternoon, no one had introduced a Jordan rules bill.

But “we’re expecting something,” said state Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, who until Dec. 31 was a member of the City Council.

He added that it’s not clear what the bill will propose or when it will be filed.

The Senate is a likely originator of the bill because its president pro tem, Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, represents a district that covers part of Guilford County.

Paul Wiebke, Public Works’ assistant director for stormwater services, told council members Thursday the strictest controls embedded in the 2009 rules package apply to the Upper New Hope Creek arm of the lake – the part that receives runoff from the Triangle, Durham included.

The Greensboro area drains into the lake’s Haw River arm.

The department’s memo on the various change proposals indicated Durham officials for simplicity’s sake in administration want to avoid widening any discrepancies between the Jordan rules and a more recent anti-pollution measure for the Falls Lake watershed.

Falls is Raleigh’s major water supply. Durham is in both watersheds, the Durham Freeway being the rough dividing line between them. Everything in the county north of the freeway is in the Falls watershed, and everything south of the freeway is in Jordan’s.