Commission President Bettye Fine Collins has urged the county to reconsider its withdrawal from SWMA, and said on Tuesday that the $400,000 paid annually to SWMA for monitoring and reporting in unincorporated Jefferson County was “a bargain.” According to the Birmingham News, the county attorney and finance director said last month that bringing monitoring in-house could cost Jefferson County $1.4 million in personnel costs. SWMA is funded by a $5 annual tax on homeowners and a $15 tax on businesses.
“I shall not be bringing it up for a fourth time,” Collins said Tuesday.
SWMA has come under fire from a consortium of corporate landowners and developers known as the Business Alliance for Responsible Development (BARD). That organization has argued that SWMA has done more monitoring than required.
Commissioners voted to delay a related resolution that would have authorized the transfer $1.4 million of funds in the county’s SWMA account to the organization. Commissioner Sheila Smoot spoke against the transfer and raised questions about SWMA’s budgeting.
“I have personally requested information on the budget,” Smoot said. “No one has ever gotten back to me.”
Commissioner Bobby Humphryes, who told reporters on Tuesday that he had been contacted by BARD representatives regarding SWMA, offered the motion to delay the transfer until an accounting could be done. Smoot said Tuesday that she had not had contact with BARD representatives.
Jefferson County has developed a storm water management plan to take effect at the beginning of next month. That plan lists 55 county positions in five departments as being involved with management, development, implementation and oversight of the county’s storm water management system. Most of those positions already exist but Collins said on Tuesday that the county will add 15 workers to the Land Development department.
“There’s no way, in my opinion, that $400,000 a year can possibly cover that operation,” Collins said. “It’s an expensive operation and I think a very perilous situation for us.”
The plan calls for Jefferson County to outsource the actual testing and monitoring procedures. The city of Birmingham, one of several municipalities to leave SWMA in recent months, contracted with environmental engineering firm Malcolm Pirnie to train its workers to test and monitor storm water and construction run-off and report results to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. Malcolm Pirnie’s Director of International Operations, Scott Phillips, serves on the Alabama Environmental Management Commission, which oversees ADEM.
ADEM is charged with handling violations of environmental policy. That agency came under fire last month from environmental groups concerned about lax enforcement of environmental regulations.
SWMA was also sending its testing results to EPA, at the agency’s request. In July, the EPA issued an audit of Shelby County’s water pollution program, which EPA found to be deficient. In August, Birmingham News writer Thomas Spencer reported that EPA “has been in Jefferson County evaluating its storm water monitoring programs.”
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