By Alex Lippa
---- — Local communities are teaming up to fight new Environmental Protection Agency stormwater regulations.
The EPA issued a draft of the MS-4 stormwater permit in February, which would require 60 communities to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to comply with the new mandates. Every town in Southern New Hampshire would be affected by the change.
As a result, 20 towns have formed a coalition as they try to find common ground with the EPA.
“Working collectively makes a lot of sense,” Plaistow Town Manager Sean Fitzgerald said. “This group will identify issues together in the permit that represent a number of concerns that New Hampshire municipalities have.”
The new rules require municipalities to develop a stormwater management program, requiring frequent testing of waterways and upgrading infrastructure.
Fitzgerald said it cost the town $2,500 to test for contaminants in the water last year. He anticipates they would have to do hundreds of similar tests to meet the EPA standards.
“We are all busy communities and these are additional unfunded mandates we now would need to deal with,” Fitzgerald said. “We are doing our best, but these are troubling times, and we have a lot of homeowners and taxpayers that are really struggling.”
The communities have until Aug. 15 to prepare a response, which is when the final decision will be made on the permit.
Salem Town Manager Keith Hickey said his town joined the coalition this month to form a stronger voice against the EPA.
“Our concerns would take a lot more credibility when dealing with a broader group of communities, as opposed to just one,” he said. “The increased monitoring is something that affects all these communities.”
Hickey said the coalition has been meeting on a regular basis and are in the process of drafting a letter to respond to the EPA.
Atkinson Town Administrator Bill Innes said the town hasn’t joined the coalition yet, but is interested in doing so.
“This is a huge project that is going to cost the town money,” he said. “There is value in understanding what other towns are trying to do.”
Hampstead Selectmen’s Chairman Sean Murphy said Hampstead hasn’t yet decided whether to join the coalition.
But he did say town officials are apprehensive about the new permit.
“We still have to review the paperwork involved in it,” he said. “I hope we can avoid it, if at all possible. It’s hundreds of thousands of dollars with no government mandate.”
The permit lasts five years and requires communities to meet specific benchmarks each year of the permit. If towns don’t meet the criteria, they could be fined up to $50,000 per day they are in violation.
Atkinson doesn’t have any contaminated bodies of water, Innes said.
But Plaistow would be required to remove 80 percent of the bacteria from Little River, in addition to the constant testing.
“We aren’t even sure whether this is something that is caused naturally or is runoff from people’s yards,” Fitzgerald said.
He said it was frustrating that smaller communities were being targeted by the permit.
“It seems rather peculiar that the permit will be exempt from major population centers,” Fitzgerald said. “I think if we are all involved, we can do something regionally and share the responsibility.”