- Associated Press - Saturday, January 31, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Homeowners could pay higher property taxes if small towns in Connecticut must comply with stricter storm water rules being negotiated with the state, town officials say.

State environmental officials counter that updated rules are critical for Connecticut to keep pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorous out of streams and rivers that ultimately empty into Long Island Sound, creating dead zones where no life exists.

The two sides are battling over rules for leaf removal, street sweeping, drainage inspection and other issues related to solid surfaces like roads and parking lots where polluted water drains into catch basins and into streams, rivers and, eventually, the sound.

“I would have expected that - when part of a community we want to regulate that hasn’t been regulated before, typically they’d be upset,” said Ozzie Inglese, director of water permitting and enforcement at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

John Elsesser, Coventry’s town manager, says the revised rules would cost the town $300,000 for equipment and consultants, forcing an increase in property taxes.

“We’re in the country. We don’t have lots of problems,” he said. “We’re not saying the environment is not important. Of all the things we can spend to improve the environment, is this the best?”

Last week, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection announced revisions in a bid to reach a compromise. Street sweeping and catch basin cleaning requirements were shifted from a prescribed schedule to one that allows municipalities flexibility to determine a schedule based on inspection observations.

The state also said a discharge monitoring program has been “significantly revamped” to focus on a more targeted approach that only tests discharges to impaired waters for specific pollutants. And field testing kits, where available, may be used to reduce lab testing costs.

The threat to waterways comes from numerous sources: copper from automobile brakes, zinc from metal roofs and gutters, compounds in rubber tires, petroleum from cars’ oil and gas tanks, nutrients in fertilizer and failing septic systems. The threat of pollution is growing as more housing, shopping centers and other developments are being built, accompanied by more blacktopping and paving.

Roger Reynolds, legal director at the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said the Clean Water Act has helped combat pollution from industry, but now more needs to be done to stem pollution from impervious surfaces.

To help shoulder higher costs without raising taxes, municipalities can be given authority to issue bonds or assess fees, he said. For example, developments with the largest blacktopped or paved surfaces would pay the most fees, Reynolds said.

“We hope Connecticut can move away from the old ways of thinking about this so we can have clean water and not have unduly high tax burdens,” he said.

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