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Businesses Hazy on New Storm Water Regulations

Businesses Hazy on New Storm Water Regulations

Government: All Business Owners Can Expect Annual Inspections

BY RENE’E BEASLEY JONES

Staff Writer

Fire and health department officials often inspect Ken Ebert’s business.

Ebert, the owner of SDIM Inc., a San Diego auto repair shop, pays hundreds of dollars annually for licensing and fees associated with inspections.

He wonders what costs may come with the new municipal storm water pollution permit, which was implemented in February.

Estimates show San Diego may spend an additional $30 million annually to comply with the plan, said Karen Henry, the city’s deputy director of storm water pollution prevention program. That more than doubles the $27 million the city budgets now.

The permit, which has a five-year life, is an extension of the federal Clean Water Act. In California, regional boards monitor municipalities’ compliance.

On April 18, San Diego’s Clean Water Task Force discussed ways to fund the new permit’s directives. Options included some type of storm water user fee or restructuring the existing storm drain fee. For instance, businesses may pay based on their property’s square footage, Henry said.

For now, single-family homeowners pay 95 cents a month for storm drain fees. Under the new permit, preliminary estimates show they may pay as much as $5 per month.

Currently, no date for the program’s full implementation or any possible raise in fees is known, Henry said.

Eventually, though, the permit will affect every business, she said. For one thing, business owners can expect annual inspections. She estimates the city will hire up to 32 employees for inspections and monitoring.

“This permit will change how we make all kinds of decisions , from heavy industry to Burger King,” said San Diego attorney Wayne Rosenbaum, whose practice focuses on environmental issues. “It has huge breadth.”

Rosenbaum believes the permit will significantly impact future land use and redevelopment. It could bring some projects to a halt, he said. Because of the permit, some developers already have altered projects.

Noncompliance could pack a real wallop. In San Diego, penalties under the new plan jumped from a maximum of $2,500 per day per violation to $10,000.

For years, city officials tried education as a first response to noncompliance, Henry said. The City Council adopted a stricter policy in 1999, directing Henry’s office to seek civil penalties.

Since June 2000, she said, officials have issued 554 citations and 112 civil penalties for storm water violations.

Because fines were relatively nominal , a minimum of $500, plus costs , violators often paid the fines without correcting problems, Henry said. She feels the threat of a $10,000 fine may serve as a deterrent.

Like San Diego, El Cajon’s annual storm water budget will double from $1 million to $2 million to meet permit requirements.

The city has added one inspector and expects to include two more in next year’s budget, said Dennis Davies, El Cajon’s principal civil engineer. During the permit’s first year, outside consultants will conduct some commercial and industrial inspections.

Besides inspectors, more maintenance personnel will be needed for additional street and storm drain cleaning.

Chula Vista already makes storm water issues part of every project, said Frank Rivera, a senior civil engineer who supervises the storm water management group.

“This isn’t something we’re starting from ground zero,” he said. “We’ve had some of this already implemented for some time.”

Still, the city must add staff.

Of five local businesses contacted, none knew about the region’s new storm water pollution permit.

Wally Featheringill, who owns Featheringill Mortuary of San Diego, wondered why his business improvement district hadn’t informed its members.

During his 40 years in business, Featheringill has seen many regulations change.

He worries about any added expense to businesses, especially new ones.

“It puts more of a pinch on,” Featheringill said.

Business owners may receive information about San Diego’s new storm water pollution plan or report illegal discharges by calling (619) 235-1000.

Also, the city’s Web site (www.sannet.gov) explains the program.

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