Lehigh Township Solicitor David Backenstoe explained a mandated pollution reduction plan to the Lehigh Township Supervisors and gathered public at the March 13 meeting of the board. The pollution reduction plan (PRP) is to stay in compliance with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer (MS4) Program. The MS4 program outlines necessary measures that municipalities must implement to reduce the impacts from silt and sediment runoff into our local waterways like the Lehigh River.
Backenstoe suggested two plans to the board, both of which would allow the township to reduce the required amount of silt runoff to the river over a period of five years at the estimated cost of five hundred thousand dollars. The first and “easiest” according to the solicitor is an increase in millage, meaning higher taxes, for residents. The increase to cover the cost would amount to a quarter of a mill over the five-year period. Backenstoe recognized that this would not be popular with people living in the township. “We need to make sure that they clearly understand that this is coming from the federal and state government adopting EPA standards,” he said.
The second plan, which Backenstoe describes as a more equitable way to pay for the mandate, is imposing a fee on people who own property with impervious cover. The City of Allentown has an ordinance for a storm water fee that charges owners $20 for every 500 square feet of impervious cover on their property. A similar ordinance in Lehigh Township would result in commercial interests covering more of the PRP cost than private citizens and would impact normally exempt entities like churches and other nonprofits.
Some of the board members took exception with the MS4 program on its face. “I have a major concern with this being rammed down our throats. The numbers are nebulous and arbitrary,” Chairman Darryl Snover said. The primary objection was that the state exempted only themselves from the program and the potential $27,500 per day fines that would be levied for noncompliance. “I’d like to appeal to this board that we file suit against the state for exempting themselves because now we have to deal with one hundred percent of the state roads in the township,” he continued. “Five hundred thousand is just the beginning. [The MS4] doesn’t represent the other manpower. That number grows. I’d rather spend the money and sue the state.”
Vice Chairman Cynthia Miller also seemed skeptical of the MS4. “When the state says it doesn’t raise taxes, it is an outright lie. They push it down to us,” she said. Miller proposed filing a Right-to-Know request to find out how the state came up with seemingly arbitrary numbers for compliance with the law. Supervisor Keith Hantz echoed the sentiment, contrasting the board’s discussion of a new public works building with this mandate, “We worry about raising taxes for something that would benefit the community and they [the state] are forcing this on us.” Hantz suggested reaching out to other local municipalities to join in an effort against the MS4.
Despite Backenstoe recommending compliance, Snover continued to be defiant. “If this board accepts this without putting up a fight, I will be disappointed,” he said.
The pollution reduction plan is posted on the Lehigh Township website at www.lehightownship.com and is available at the municipal building for a month starting on March 9. Public comment is welcome.
The next Board of Supervisors meeting will be at 1069 Municipal Road in Walnutport on Tuesday, March 27 at 7 p.m.