Board of Public Works intends to revisit stormwater issue
Date: 6/4/2012 June 4, 2012
By Chris Mazachrism@thereminder.com
EAST LONGMEADOW In terms of stormwater basins, it's not exactly back to the drawing board for the Board of Public Works (BPW) and Department of Public Works (DPW) Senior Project Manager Sean Kelley.
Kelley told Reminder Publications that the BPW discussed the matter at its May 29 meeting and plans to continue pursuit of a by-law regarding the maintenance of stormwater retention and detention basis.
The by-law that set the parameters for enforcing stormwater basin maintenance and allowed the DPW to establish the rules and standards relative thereto that was passed at the Sept. 26, 2011 Special Town Meeting was repealed at the recent Annual Town Meeting, thanks to an effort by resident Peter Cokotis.
"We are going to attempt to hold a public meeting in the near future asking for input, particularly from residents who are directly affected," he said. "Depending on what kind of input we get, we may or may not modify the rules. If we don't have any productive input, we will be returning at the next Special Town Meeting with the same by-law to try to get it re-passed."
The basins in question perform the important task of controlling the flow of water off of neighborhood streets, giving water a place to collect where it can either evaporate or be absorbed into the ground. They also allow for any sediment or pollutants in the water to filter out before re-entering the local waterways.
Kelley stressed that the repeal of the by-law does not absolve property owners of the responsibility of the maintenance of their retention and detention basins.
"They are still responsible, as per their deeds or documents that are referenced in their deeds, to maintain these basins," he said.
Kelley explained that when the Planning Department, Conservation Commission and DPW started allowing detention basins in order to reduce the tax of extra stormwater from new streets on the pipes beneath existing streets, they did so "with an agreement that it would not be the town's responsibility to maintain them, but the homeowners' responsibility."
He further stated that with the construction of each subdivision, a declaration of the homeowners' association should have been filed at the Hampden County courthouse.
"The builder or developer of the property declared that in consideration of being allowed to build the subdivision, he would create a homeowners' association where each homeowner would have a vote and also an equal responsibility," he said. "The rationale, for the most part, of these associations was for the maintenance of these detention basins."
The town has 63 detention basins associated with residential neighborhoods, Kelley said, adding that there are also numerous basins in commercial districts.
"The majority of the detention basins in town that are associated with subdivisions need some sort of maintenance," he said. "For the most part, that maintenance is mowing and removal of trees, but it might also include the filling in of animal boroughs or removing of excessive silt or pollution or whatnot."
While some of the subdivisions' documents included easements to the town in order to inspect the basins, the majority did not, which prompted the need for the by-law.
"Over the past eight years or so I have been working with [the BPW] on a solution or a way of allowing the town to assist the homeowners in maintaining those because of lot of them have not been maintained," Kelley said. "The by-law gave us permission to enter the private property and do something if need be. The intent was not to remove any responsibility, it was to open the door to assist."
He said that the failure of a basin due to a lack of maintenance could lead to flooding, similar to that of a dam breaking, and any damage to properties, the liability would fall on the homeowners of the subdivision.
If the by-law is not passed a second time or similar by-law is not adopted, the options for the town are limited.
"One thing we could do is to institute a stormwater tax where every resident in the town becomes responsible for the maintenance of the basins, not physically, but monetarily. Some people at Town Meeting suggested that, but it would be drastic. Essentially, we'd create a separate stormwater utility," he said. "I don't have a final number, but it would probably be somewhere around $50 per household. We don't want to go down that way. We don't think it's a fair way to go because these subdivisions were built on the understanding that we would not be taking care of the detention basins."
Kelley also said there could be the possibility of a moratorium on retention and detention basins if the by-law proposal fails.
"Doing so may prohibit future building or make it so excessively expensive so that someone couldn't develop their property," he said.