Fayette County

Planning for new sewer fees

Only light refreshments were served, but the topic — sewers — didn't exactly lend itself to eating.

About 80 people paid $30 each to be part of Tuesday's Consent Decree for Dummies seminar at Malone's on Tates Creek Road.

They represented developers, small businesses, churches, manufacturers and utilities. And they were there to learn more about what to expect as the city carries out the deal it struck with the Environmental Protection Agency this year to improve sanitary and storm sewer systems.

Scott Smith, a consultant who helped write similar agreements for Louisville, Northern Kentucky and other cities, talked about the new storm sewer fee the city will be required to put in place. Lexington officials aren't far enough along to know what the fee will be. But Smith said the average residential unit in Northern Kentucky, with 2,600 square feet of impervious surface such as a roof and driveway, pays $4.50 a month.

Larger property owners — businesses, churches or schools — could do the math and realize they might have quite a large fee, he said.

"The bigger the building — some of these places in Lexington — it's not a pretty picture," he said.

But Northern Kentucky has taken steps that Lexington might copy that would allow landowners to lower their bills by slowing storm-water runoff.

That might be just a rain barrel or rain garden for a homeowner. For a business owner, it could be more elaborate: a constructed wetland or a concrete lattice parking area that would allow rain to soak into the soil.

Rena Wiseman, an attorney who often represents developers, talked about a part of the EPA agreement that will require the city to certify that there are adequate sanitary sewers before a new development is approved.

The Capacity Assurance Program, as it is called, has been a concern of Commerce Lexington, which sponsored the seminar.

A developer planning to build 100 houses could put down a deposit reserving sewer capacity for the units, she said. If 70 were built, only those deposits would be refunded. The risk of losing the deposits on unbuilt homes would discourage people from hoarding capacity.

The program won't be in place for at least two years. Smith, the consultant, said the city should already have an idea about which parts of town might not have enough capacity.

Similar seminars are planned as the city carries out the EPA agreement. The deal requires the city to spend $250 million to $300 million over the next dozen years to improve sanitary and storm sewer systems that have violated the Clean Water Act by polluting streams.