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Home / Commercial Construction / Lobbyists face last stand on runoff rules (UPDATE)

Lobbyists face last stand on runoff rules (UPDATE)

By Sean Ryan

Builders and manufacturers have only one more chance to convince state policymakers that new runoff and phosphorus rules will cost too much money.

The two rules, drafted by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, cleared the state Natural Resources Board on Wednesday, meaning business associations trying to block or revise the rules will have to do so through the state Legislature.

One rule regulates runoff from construction sites, farms and streets. The other requires farms, factories and wastewater treatment plants reduce the levels of phosphorus deposited in waterways.

The runoff rules change the requirements for construction sites, said Pat Stevens, general counsel for the Wisconsin Builders Association.

How it impacts builders is really going to be determined by a case-by-case basis,” he said. “Sometimes it is going to be more stringent, and sometimes it’s going to be more lenient.”

State permits now require builders trap 80 percent of the runoff from their construction sites. The new runoff rules would drop that standard and instead require that runoff cannot carry more than 5 tons of dirt from a construction site.

On sites where loose dirt and water runoff is not an issue, builders could do less than current rules require. On difficult sites with, for example, heavy slopes, builders could spend more money to control erosion, Stevens said.

The runoff rules have not concerned manufacturers, but the new phosphorous requirements will force companies to sign on for expensive projects, said Scott Manley, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce environmental policy director.

The requirement to capture more phosphorus from water discharged from wastewater plants could mean those plants need to build water-treatment projects that can range from $2 million to $20 million, depending on the size of the plant, Manley said.

“Whether you use the DNR’s numbers or whether you use other numbers,” he said, “this is a multibillion-dollar bill.”

Amber Meyer Smith, Clean Wisconsin program director, said state officials, after receiving comments from environmentalists and businesses, revised the rules to lower costs. The runoff rules, for example, let municipalities pool money with farmers to collaborate on cost-effective projects that target areas with a lot of runoff pollution.

Meyer Smith said the rules are not perfect, but they should become law.

“The end result was there was a lot of work done by a lot of people to make this a compromise,” she said. “There’s a lot of things in there that we still oppose.”

Manley said the last hope of derailing the rules is to get the Wisconsin Legislature to go back into session to reject them.

Stevens said the WBA will not ask the Legislature to entirely reject the runoff rules, but the association will ask for changes. Beyond complying with the erosion rules, he said, builders are worried about an increase in wetland setbacks from 50 to 75 feet. That rule could force builders to revise subdivision designs and remove building lots, he said.

But the clock will be ticking against the lobbyists. The Legislature is out of session, and the November elections have lawmakers on the road campaigning.

If the DNR submits the rules to the Legislature by Aug. 31, they could become law if the Legislature remains out of session.

“Unfortunately, in Wisconsin, we don’t have a very robust system of legislative review of agency rules,” Manley said. “It’s passive review, which means that if the Legislature doesn’t do anything in 30 days, the rule gets approved.”

Manley said he will lobby the leaders of legislative committees to see if any would support calling a public hearing, which would require the Legislature’s return to Madison.

“The legislators ought to be willing to take a break from their campaigns,” he said, “and take a look at a rule like that.”

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