City of Huntington Enacts Stormwater Fee - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

City of Huntington Enacts Stormwater Fee

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 By JAMES E. CASTO

The City of Huntington has taken a major first step at resolving its long-time street flooding-problem.

At its June 23 meeting, Huntington City Council unanimously approved a proposal to create a new Water Quality Board and impose a flat $7.15 per month storm water utility fee to be paid by all property owners, both residential and non-residential. The fee will begin Oct. 1 and continue for two years.

The proposal, crafted by a citizen committee convened by Mayor Steve Williams, took the place of an earlier proposal from the mayor that envisioned a fee on property owners that would have ranged from $4 to $100 per month, based on the square footage of each property. When the earlier proposal ran into stiff opposition, Williams withdrew it and said he would ask a citizen committee to draw up a new plan.

The new Water Quality Board will merge the city’s three existing services related to water quality and quantity — the Huntington Sanitary Board, Floodwall Division and Storm Water Division. Williams said the merger will result in efficiencies that would enable a 10 percent reduction in the city’s municipal fee.

During the two years the new fee is in place the city will map impervious surfaces across the city that contribute to storm water runoff. Those property owners with large impervious surfaces — primarily businesses — will then be required to pay an increased fee. Most homeowners will continue to pay the flat $7.15.

Williams has said the money collected from the new fee will enable the city to make a long-overdue start on addressing the decades-old flooding of Huntington's underpasses and some streets during periods of heavy rain.

The city’s aging sewer system combines both sewage and storm water. This means that street flooding doesn’t just snarl traffic; it also creates a health hazard when the sewers overflow with hazardous waste. That’s attracted the attention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is demanding the city take corrective action.

It’s anticipated that separating the city’s sanitary sewers and storm sewers could cost tens of millions of dollars.

Williams has been critical of previous city administrations for failing to attack the city’s decades-old sewer woes. In offering his initial fee proposal in January, he said: “People don’t like the idea of having to pay for something, but they also don’t like not being able to drive across town because of flooding or waking up and finding their basements flooded. It’s time to quit talking and start doing.”

Tom McCallister, a frequent critic of Huntington city government, blasted the fee proposal during the council meeting and said it would make Williams a one-term mayor.