Testimony of Juli Beth Hoover, AICP, City of South Burlington, Vermont
U.S. Senate Fisheries, Wildlife and Water Subcommittee
September 16, 2003
I am testifying on behalf of the City of South Burlington, Vermont, where I serve as Director of Planning and Zoning, and also our eight fellow towns who are subject to EPA’s Phase II NPDES stormwater regulations. My testimony concerns our experience with the Phase II program, some creative ways we have found to meet the Phase II requirements, and also our expanding, highly successful program of decentralized stormwater management projects that are showing great promise as a cost-effective way to meet local economic and environmental needs.
South Burlington and our fellow towns comprise the urban core of Vermont. We are all located within the Greater Burlington area of Chittenden County, which with its 150,000 residents is home to one-quarter of Vermont’s population and most of its major employers. Where water and the economy are concerned, most of what happens in Chittenden County relates to Lake Champlain. The Lake is our drinking water source, a major driver of Northwest Vermont’s tourism economy, and a local and national treasure. It is also the endpoint for nine urban streams that drain most of the County’s urbanized area, Seven of these are on the State’s 303(d) list of waters impaired by urban stormwater runoff. Stormwater is a major environmental concern in Vermont; some of our beaches are plagued by bacterial-related closings, and we continue to work to reduce phosphorus loading into our beautiful lake.
When we first began learning about the Phase II program, we said “Ugh.” More requirements, more paperwork, more expense. Our experience with the program to date, six months after receiving authorization under the program, has been much better than anticipated for two principal reasons.
First, the Phase II stormwater management plan development has led to a thorough accounting of just what the towns spend on stormwater to begin with: in other words, what are all of the things we do and expenses we incur because it rains, and because snow melts? The answer is anything spent or done on flood control, catch basin cleaning, culvert replacement, maintaining beaches and streamside recreation areas, or ensuring that commercial sites are properly managed becomes part of each town’s Phase II Stormwater Management Plan. In short, the Stormwater Management Plans have become a sort of gap-in-services analysis pointing out what our stormwater actions and budgets really are, what holes there may be, and how to pull together new and particularly existing resources to cover those gaps.
Second, the Chittenden County towns developed a creative and cost-effective way to meet the public education and public outreach minimum control measures. It was apparent early in the Phase II process that the collective public education skill level of our group of engineering, public works, wastewater and planning geeks was absolutely zero. Concerned that we were going to be compelled to spend staff time and funds on ineffective and boring brochures, we did something different. Eight towns, the Burlington Airport and the University of Vermont hired a local marketing firm to develop a professional, highly visible public education campaign to meet the Phase II requirements for all of these permittees. Instead of boring brochures and wasted staff time, we will have a professional public education campaign on how citizens can keep the Lake clean. This approach, which will cost 33 cents per county resident per year, has had an enormous impact in King County, Washington and Prince George’s County, Maryland and we believe it will work in Chittenden County, too.
It is South Burlington’s direct experience, and my testimony, that given the level of effort, staff time, and resources being spent to meet the GASP-34 accounting standards for fixed-asset inventory, the fractional share of time and resources we are spending to meet the Phase II regulations is a far more useful, cost-effective, and publicly beneficial program. The asset inventory doesn’t prevent beach closings and higher water filtration costs; having the authority to implement Phase II will help us do just that.
In Chittenden County, we estimate our communities will spend between $20,000 and $200,000 apiece per year on new expenditures related to Phase II—including the cooperative public education program—which is a per capita expenditure of between $4 and $12 per year. In a recreation-based economy, and in a place where the Champlain Water District will charge us to remove from the Lake whatever pollutants we put into it, we are confident that this is money well spent.
The second, and very exciting, initiative for which I would ask your support, is the our effort to use decentralized or distributed stormwater systems to prevent pollution and support business development. In 2000, a very creative Vermont Environmental Conservation employee noticed three things on a piece of land in South Burlington: a brook polluted with petroleum hydrocarbons, sediment and phosphorus from stormwater runoff in our “auto alley” and which drained, of course, directly to Lake Champlain; a Chevy dealership that needed more stormwater capacity to expand its business; and a totally unused piece of land behind the Chevy dealer that was part of a railroad right-of-way.
With $300,000 from thirteen separate grant sources, the cooperation of the Chevy dealer, and a lot of head-scratching by some very talented people, the City of South Burlington built the Bartlett Brook Stormwater Treatment Facility. This four-acre system does three things: It allowed Bill Shearer to expand his business; has now been shown through scientific monitoring to be removing toxic pollutants and nutrients from Bartlett Brook that otherwise would be dumped in the lake; and it made use of a piece of undevelopable land to serve the environment and the economy in an incredibly cost-effective and attractive way.
This approach works. Distributed stormwater treatment systems using constructed wetlands or micropool extended detention, can make use of under-utilized and un-developable land to create capacity for new development and clean up even the most difficult stormwater runoff pollution problems. They can compliment CSO and other structural treatment systems, or in some cases, substitute for them entirely. Within Chittenden County we have plans on the board for a half-dozen more of these systems, all using land such as highway rights-of-way where no one wants to build, but where we have tremendous potential to improve water quality and create development capacity where stormwater storage and treatment is an issue.
In Chittenden County, we have planned this type of distributed treatment system in two transportation-related locations here in South Burlington where commercial properties need storage and treatment area, and we can provide that in otherwise useless cloverleafs and on-ramp lands. From a cost standpoint, these systems typically cost between $300,000 and $800,000 to build. When existing public lands, such as railroad or interstate rights-of-way can be used, the cost drops accordingly.
Burlington is proposing a wetland system just upstream of Oakledge Beach, a beautiful beach that is plagued by closures after rain events due to urban runoff from Engelsby Brook. A constructed wetland system similar to Bartlett Brook is proposed just a quarter-mile upstream to remove bacteria, toxics and sediment. The cost is close to $1 million and again, must be funded through multiple grant sources when it should be funded as a matter of good basic water quality infrastructure.
South Burlington is proposing two similar systems to be funded through an EPA STAG grant and the EPA Decentralized Water Resources Demonstration Grant, with costs of $300,000 for one that treats runoff from our downtown in land down below an Interstate on-ramp, and $800,000 for a system treating runoff from state and federal highways, three shopping centers, and a residential neighborhood just a half-mile upstream of Lake Champlain, and South Burlington’s beautiful Red Rocks park and beach.
I would ask Congress’s support for this distributed approach through more aggressive funding for and directives to the SRF program to make use of these funds for distributed and non-structural stormwater treatment. Last year, Congress directed the use of $75 million of the over $1 billion in federal funds for the SRF for distributed, non-traditional and soft path techniques such as these. We would greatly improve public use of funds to spend a larger share of our traditional clean water funds on cheap, effective, distributed stormwater strategies instead of forcing municipal staff to chase down and administer 13 grants for such a valuable approach.
Juli Beth Hoover, AICP, is the Director of Planning & Zoning for the City of South Burlington, Vermont. She is responsible for all comprehensive planning, development review, and water quality programs in this rapidly-growing City of 16,000 residents with a tax base of over $1.2 billion. She is the project manager for EPA’s National Decentralized Water Resources Demonstration Project for Chittenden County, Vermont, and previously served as the project manager for one of EPA’s first DWR projects in the Town of Warren, Vermont, when she was the Director of the Mad River Valley Planning District.
Ms. Hoover’s research and publications focus on the interaction between water resource infrastructure and community land use outcomes. She serves on the Water Environment Research Foundation’s Decentralized Research Advisory Committee, has presented papers at many national seminars and conferences including those of the American Planning Association and National On-Site Wastewater Recycling Association. She is also a national director of the Fellowship of Christian Community Development Professionals.
Ms. Hoover graduated from Hollins College, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, with a degree in Economics, and earned her Master’s in City and Regional Planning from Rutgers University. She lives in Burlington, Vermont with her two daughters.
DISTRIBUTED/DECENTRALIZED STORMWATER TREATMENT SYSTEMS
For URBAN STORMWATER MANAGEMENT in CHITTENDEN COUNTY, VERMONT
BARTLETT BROOK STORMWATER TREATMENT SYSTEM
City of South Burlington
The Bartlett Brook Stormwater Treatment System in South Burlington, Vermont is a state-of-the-art constructed wetland system. It illustrates the many advantages of distributed stormwater management, also known as decentralized or “soft path” systems. These utilize land-based treatment of stormwater to clean pollutants from runoff before the runoff enters streams and lakes.
Stormwater runoff from the auto-related businesses on U.S. Route 7 is diverted into a four-acre system of settling ponds and constructed wetlands prior to discharge into Bartlett Brook and Lake Champlain.
The pond makes use of unused land in a railroad right-of-way, and created enough stormwater capacity to allow expansion of Shearer Chevrolet. Monitoring has shown the system effectively removes petroleum hydrocarbons, sediment, and phosphorus from stormwater. The project cost $300,000 and was funded through 13 grants.
ENGELSBY BROOK CONSTRUCTED WETLAND TREATMENT
City of Burlington
The City of Burlington will build a constructed wetland similar to the Bartlett Brook system on this land along Engelsby Brook, roughly ¼ mile upstream from Oakledge Park and Lake Champlain. This system includes a $60,000 EPA demonstration grant and funding from the EPA Superfund settlement for the Pine Street Barge Canal.
The constructed wetland will remove pollutants upstream of this stormwater outfall, which contributes to beach closures just downstream…
…at the popular Oakledge Park beach.
PLANNED MICROPOOL STORMWATER TREATMENT SYSTEMS
City of Burlington and City of South Burlington
South Burlington will be using the decentralized stormwater treatment approach to treat runoff from its two major commercial centers. Unused, un-developable land in highway rights-of-way will be used to install micropool extended detention systems.
This land along Shelburne Road will treat runoff from—and enable redevelopment of—three major shopping centers in Burlington and South Burlington.
This interstate on-ramp’s right-of-way contains the outfalls for runoff from South Burlington’s newly-developing City Center area. A micropool system, estimated to cost $300,000, will provide capacity for development and ensure that pollutants stay out of Centennial Brook and Lake Champlain.