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York County works to help Save the Bay

Written by Flint McColgan/York Daily Record-Sunday News | Jan 28, 2016 9:07 AM
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Michael V. Nixon, a national environmental lawyer based out of Pittsburgh, takes a look at the Susquehanna River next to his weekend retreat in Hellam Township in 2015. The river leads into the Chesapeake Bay, and efforts are underway to curb pollution and manage stormwater.(Photo: File)

Stakeholders from across the county have indicated their support of efforts to improve stormwater management and reduce waterway pollution.

(Undated) -- Stakeholders from across the county have indicated their support for the creation of a new governmental entity to lead countywide efforts to improve stormwater management and reduce waterway pollution.

On Wednesday, the county decided to pursue that plan.

The York County Planning Commission presented its findings in a public survey of as "many people as we could to tell us what they thought" about stormwater management, flooding, pollution and as many topics as possible.

The problem

The impairment of the Chesapeake Bay is of concern and so the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "has limited how much pollution Pennsylvania and other states can put into the Bay," wrote John Seitz, of the planning commission, wrote in a newsletter titled "Stormwater Management Solutions: Is it time for an Authority?" in January 2015.

Rivers like the Susquehanna, and the tributaries to it including Codorus Creek, flow into the bay.

"We've been told in broad context that we have to meet all these reductions in sediment and nitrogen and phosphorous but at the same time counties were told that these were voluntary," said Michael Helfrich, the Lower Susquhanna riverkeeper, in support of the authority at the Wednesday meeting.

"The state has to meet certain standards but ... you can't get there without the counties taking action," he added. So, early on I was going around telling counties 'United we stand, divided we fall.'"

He said that York County, and in particular its planning commission, has taken the lead in getting ahead of meeting these requirements.

What's next?

There were nearly 800 responses to the public survey, said Pennsylvania-based Nathan Walker, a senior water resources planner with the British consultancy firm Amec Foster Wheeler. Based on those responses, the commission recommended a countywide authority.

Based on the study's recommendations, the York County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday approved a motion for the commission to move forward with a study on how to implement a county authority.

But what that authority will look like is "not an easy answer to show," Walker said, because there are so many facets that need to be worked out.

What questions remain?

Those include who the decisions will be made by, though respondents appear to favor a small representative board appointed by the county to a larger decision-making board.

Other factors include the scope of services, whether representatives should be private citizens or elected officials, whether regulatory authority should fully move to the authority or stay in part with the municipalities, and how the body should be funded.

Efforts will include recruiting more municipalities to be represented so those stakeholders can "serve as a sounding board for the next steps," according to the feasibility study. Outreach will also be made to educate the public on the needs.

Predecessor

The authority has a predecessor that existed for about a year: A consortium of 43 municipalities, including York County..

"In the absence of doing something together there would have been 43 of these different pollutant reduction plans," said Felicia Dell, the director of the countycommission. "We worked together with (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection) to make one plan that would cover all of these 43 municipalities."

That predecessor, which Dell said could be folded into the new authority, has shown the need for collaboration.

"The mandates aren't going to get any less stringent," she said. "The takeways is that everybody has to do something whether you are rural or urban. ... We need to work collaboratively."

*This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record

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