Longview council grudgingly adopts stormwater rules

By Amy M.E. Fischer | Posted: Friday, August 14, 2009 12:00 am |

The Longview City Council on Thursday adopted federally mandated stormwater rules to reduce pollution to waterways and then voted to send a letter to Congress objecting to several of the requirements.

Councilman Dennis Weber described the regulations as “another example of federal bureaucracy run amok.” The river is so polluted by the time it reaches Longview that the city’s stormwater runoff has no significant impact on its water quality, he said.

Councilwoman Mary Jane Melink disagreed, telling Weber, “That’s like saying the fire’s so big there’s no point in putting a hose on it.”

Mayor Kurt Anagnostou said he thought the legislation “does a lot of good,” and that if any serious problems arise, the council could revise it.

Because stormwater drains release untreated water into rivers, the state is requiring cities to take extreme care in what goes into the stormwater system. The requirements will affect how new residential and commercial developments are designed. They also will require citizens to wash vehicles on grass or gravel instead of in driveways and streets.

The deadline for cities to adopt the regulations is Saturday. Not complying with the rules would leave the city open to state and federal fines totaling $65,000 per day per violation, plus lawsuits and criminal prosecution of city management and elected officials.

On July 23, the council voted 3-2 to approve an ordinance bringing the city in compliance with federal law. But the measure needed four votes to pass. Two council members were absent. Because the city was under a mandate to adopt an ordinance, it was clear the matter would come back to the council.

At the July meeting, Councilman Don Jensen said he wanted to “draw a line in the sand” and sue the state for interfering with local governments. He joined Councilman Andy Busack in voting against the ordinance.

Jensen said was making a political protest with his “no” vote because he objects to restrictions on residential car washing. However, he said he knew the council had no choice but to adopt the ordinance and would change his vote at the next meeting.

The car-washing battle has been fought and lost already. Longview and 32 other cities in 2007 appealed the standards the state Department of Ecology set for municipal stormwater permits. Although the appeal resulted in several changes, the car-washing restrictions weren’t lifted.

On Thursday, Longview resident Matt Swanson told Jensen he didn’t want his tax dollars fighting the councilman’s personal fight. Reading from a prepared statement, Swanson called Jensen’s objections to the ordinance ”the most inappropriate, juvenile, insincere, worthless waste of hot air I have ever heard from your mouth, and that’s saying a lot.”

Swanson continued his attack, saying, “It’s too bad that you are now flip-flopping, having taken a stand you never intended to hold firm to, making a political clown out of yourself, turning our council into a circus and reaffirming the stereotype that the citizens of Cowlitz County are a bunch of yokels. At this point, I’d rather see you stick to your guns so that you can find yourself behind bars and held personally liable for not enacting this mandated piece of legislation.”

When Swanson finally finished, Jensen laughed and replied, “I’m glad this is a democracy.”

Busack said he intended to vote no again “because I don’t want to be known as a spineless flip-flop.” The ordinance would pass without his support, he predicted. And it did, 6-1.

Related Articles:

Like it or not, Longview council likely to adopt stormwater rules (July 24)

What are you sending down the drain? (June 10)