Energy & Environment

St. Albans Town adds a utility fee to finance stormwater projects

A gravel wetland in St. Albans was designed to filter pollutants before water enters the nearby Stevens Brook, reduce erosion and create a natural appearance. File photo courtesy of the Vermont Agency of Transportation

St. Albans Town residents and businesses will be charged a new annual fee, likely starting in July, to help fund a slate of proposed stormwater management projects.

The projects aim to limit stormwater runoff in the Rugg and Stevens Brook watersheds, which state regulators classify as impaired because they fail to meet Vermont’s water quality standards. Runoff — and the contaminants it carries — contributes to problems with water quality and phosphorus in St. Albans Bay, as well as greater Lake Champlain. 

Owners of single-family homes will pay the town $50 per year, while owners of properties without a single-family home will be charged $50 for every 3,500 square feet that is impervious to water, which includes surfaces such as pavement, sidewalks and rooftops.

Properties with a total impervious area greater than 20 times that of the average single-family home in town — which was determined to have an impervious area of 3,500 square feet — will be able to pay their fee quarterly. 

St. Albans Town officials determined the amount of impervious area on each parcel of land using satellite imagery and a state GIS file, which is a type of geocoding, said Emmalee Cherington, the municipality’s stormwater coordinator.

The town government has budgeted about $500,000 for stormwater management this year, Cherington said, and also hopes to tap into state and federal clean water funding. 

“It’s millions of dollars’ worth of work that has to occur, and that’s just for the streams,” she said. “That’s not even looking at the Lake Champlain aspect of it.” 

Stormwater runoff occurs when more rain falls than the land can absorb, the Franklin County Stormwater collaborative says on its website. The water collects when it reaches an impervious surface, picking up pollutants such as bacteria, oil and heavy metals along the way.

This runoff also leads to land erosion, according to the collaborative, which pulls plants and sediment into waterways and can harm fish and wildlife.

The town is developing a separate plan to control the amount of phosphorus going into the lake, which will overlap with its existing plans — known as flow restoration projects — for Rugg and Stevens brooks, Cherington said.

Many commercial properties in town already have their own stormwater management systems and can receive a fee credit for doing that work, she added.

“We’re trying to figure out how we can treat what the town is responsible for,” she said. “It’s mostly our roadways that are causing the detrimental effects.”

St. Albans Town is the seventh municipality in Vermont to enact a stormwater utility fee, and the rate is comparatively low, Cherington said. Colchester charges a base fee of $52 for its stormwater utility; South Burlington charges about $84 a year for a single-family home.

St. Albans Town has been required to implement stormwater control and flow restoration measures since 2012, when, along with St. Albans City, it was classified under the state’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit.

The St. Albans Town Selectboard passed an ordinance creating a stormwater utility last fall and unanimously adopted the $50 rate May 17.

New public funds will pay to install, operate and maintain town-owned stormwater systems; improve roads, culverts and storm drains; and cover permitting costs, among other uses, according to Cherington. Currently, projects must be completed by 2036. 

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Shaun Robinson

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