Durham's City Council members really aren't against the environment. They want to see Jordan Lake's water quality improved and protected. It's just some proposed rules they have problems with.
"We have to be careful," said councilman Eugene Brown, that the council's position doesn't come across to the public as "anti-environmental."
Durham has appropriated more than $100,000 for legal expenses to oppose portions of a "Jordan Lake Nutrient Management Strategy" now before the state General Assembly. But environmentalists, including some in Durham, make it clear they want the rules in place.
Yet, said Councilman Mike Woodard, "We need to be clear there are some portions of the Jordan Lake rules we are supportive of."
The council took a position this afternoon, with a resolution in favor of modifying a set of 12 proposed regulations now before the state General Assembly. The resolution supports most of the strategy, but with four qualifications: Removing
- the requirement to retrofit existing development to meet new runoff standards;
- imposition of new nitrogen limits before 2016;
- requirement for local governments, rather than the state, to enforce stream-buffer requirements;
- identification of the Jordan Basin as a "critical water supply watershed."
The city has estimated complying with the retrofit rule alone could cost Durham taxpayers more than $500 million; and city staffers maintain that some of the proposed rules are based on faulty science.
But, said assistant city attorney Karen Sindelar, "the rules require some things we are already doing and some we do not oppose."
The City of Durham favors most of the strategy's provisions, including requirements to cut nutrient levels from wastewater plants; stringent stormwater-control requirements for new development; changes in allowable fertilizer content and application practices; and mandatory changes in agricultural practice.
"This is what I would call a nuanced resolution," said assistant city attorney Karen Sindelar, who requested that the council advance its vote on the Jordan Lake resolution ahead of the rest of its agenda for the Durham legislative delegation.
Sindelar advised haste because a bill opposing the Jordan rules in their entirety was introduced in the state senate last week.
"We need to get the council's official position out," she said. "Act today to state that council supports some of the rules."