On February 9, 2012, the City hosted a public hearing for the US Environmental Protection Agency, regarding the upcoming pollution discharge permit renewal that it will receive for our Waste Water Treatment Facility. This permit is required for the City to operate the facility, which is part of our sanitary sewer system. In basic terms, if we don't have a permit to operate the facility, we will have a major problem.
In general there aren't concerns about the permit being issued. What is a concern is that the EPA wishes to increase the restrictions being placed on the amount of nitrogen allowed in the Great Bay Estuary. Currently, the plant discharges approximately 22 mg/l (milligrams per liter). The EPA has proposed allowing 3 mg/l as the acceptable threshold. The City is requesting that the threshold be 8 mg/l, still a significant adjustment.
Putting aside the direct cost of this difference, one thing that jumps out to me is the impact this can have on Smart Growth based planning. For over a decade, we have been looking to make it easier for growth in Dover to be centered around infrastructure, and away from rural areas. Even before the form based code changes to the downtown area, I think that we were moving in the direction of concentrating our development downtown, building off the successes we have and the strength of our core.
I believe Dover is very progressive and responsible when it comes to the environment. We have made huge investments in conservation and preservation of open space. The City has expended over 5 million dollars, which has been leveraged with an additional 6 million dollars to protect 792 acres, over the past decade. This property limits the amount of developable land in Dover and has the added benefit of protecting habitats and the waterways that exist in Dover.
In addition to this work, the City has also implemented various aspects of low impact development guidelines, and also made improvements in the way we review site and subdivision plans. These changes and improvements have helped guide us to be more mindful and ultimately respectful of the environment and to consider development in a more holistic fashion. I believe that we are making smart and responsible choices in regards to the impact man has on the land.
So, if we do have this requirement presented and that is the only option is it the end of the world? Not hardly. It is a blow to urbanism, I believe. It appears to double the effective sewer rate in Dover. This makes it hardly a welcoming place to tie into the sewer system. I believe it will encourage people to want to investigate and ultimately utilize a septic system for their sanitary sewer needs. This can lead to sprawl and to other unintended consequences. There is plenty of disheartening information about the havoc that septic systems have raised in the Chesapeake Bay area. Dover has worked very long and hard to protect its natural rsources and will continue to do so in the future.
If you missed the EPA public hearing and want more information, please check the webpage we have set up for it.