Stormwater Utility FAQs
What is stormwater and why is it a problem?
Stormwater is water from rain, snow and ice melt. Precipitation in agricultural and undeveloped areas is either absorbed or slowly runs off and dissipates. In developed areas such as the City of Bangor, where rooftops and paved areas not only prevent the water from being absorbed but help it run off at a much faster rate, problems arise.
In these developed areas, the stormwater makes its way much more quickly to streams and other waterways, creating sudden high flows. Inadequate drainage systems compound the problems associated with heavy rains. The stormwater accumulates in many areas of the city, causing flooding, impairments to our urban streams, and potential threats to public health and safety. In some highly developed areas of Bangor over 90% of the water runs off (compared to 29% in less developed areas).
Flooding is only part of the problem. Water quality is also an issue. Precipitation picks up sediments from buildings, streets, and driveways and carries with it pollutants such as gasoline, oil, and heavy metals. Pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are washed from lawns and other green spaces. The stormwater acts like a broom, pushing these sediments and pollutants into the waterways. In warm weather, stormwater runoff from surfaces such as asphalt heats up, compounding the problem. With the passage of time, these pollutants build up in our waterways and underground drainage systems, causing significant environmental damage to our urban streams. These pollutants also threaten our fish and aquatic life.
What is an impervious area?
An impervious area is a surface that either prevents or slows the natural absorption of water into soil. Rooftops, streets, parking lots, driveways, sidewalks, patios and artificial turf are all examples of impervious areas. Impervious areas also includes compacted gravel and compacted unpaved surfaces.
Is the City of Bangor’s runoff really a pollution concern?
Yes. Stormwater runoff is our most common cause of water pollution. It can carry harmful pollutants, cause flooding, erode topsoil and ditch banks and create impairments to aquatic habitats. The majority of stormwater runoff in the City flows into several smaller urban streams, plus the Kenduskeag Stream and Penobscot River. Urbanization increases the variety and amount of pollutants carried into our natural water bodies. The pollutants include: sediments; oil, grease and toxic chemicals from motor vehicles; pesticides and nutrients from lawns and gardens; nutrients from pet waste and failing sanitary sewer systems; and thermal pollution from warm impervious surfaces such as asphalt streets and roof tops.
Why do we need to pay attention to stormwater now?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued stormwater and water quality regulations that require communities, even smaller ones like the City of Bangor, to control water pollution from stormwater runoff. This means that the City must take a more active role in managing its stormwater. We are required by EPA to implement municipal stormwater programs to reduce stormwater pollution discharges.
What are these stormwater regulations, and what do they require us to do?
The federal Clean Water Act sets standards for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s) under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program.
An MS4 is a publicly owned conveyance or system of conveyances (roads with drainage systems, ditches curbs, catch basins, etc.) that is designed or used for collecting or conveying stormwater and discharges to surface waters of the State. Because it owns and operates roads and storm drain systems, the City of Bangor is a regulated MS4 community.
Under the NPDES program, MS4 owners/operators must obtain stormwater permits and implement a comprehensive stormwater management program that reduces the contamination of stormwater runoff and prohibits illicit discharges to the “maximum extent practicable”.
Stormwater management programs for MS4 communities include measures to:
• Identify major outfalls and pollutant loadings
• Detect and eliminate non-stormwater discharges to the system
• Reduce pollutants in runoff from industrial, commercial, and residential areas
• Control stormwater discharges from new development and redevelopment areas
• Implement a monitoring program
The City is required to pay particular attention to certain streams that do not meet state-imposed water quality classifications. These streams are called urban impaired streams, and are listed in the 2012 Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report and its appendices. One of the primary goals of the City’s stormwater program is to improve the water quality in these streams so that they meet their water quality classifications.
What is the stormwater utility for?
The stormwater utility was established to provide revenue to maintain and improve existing stormwater infrastructure in the City of Bangor, and to develop and maintain a comprehensive water quality focused stormwater management plan as mandated by the Federal government under the Clean Water Act.
What was the process for establishing the stormwater utility?
City staff, with assistance from CH2M Hill Engineers and others, developed the organizational structure and budget that would allow the City to meet its stormwater management needs. City staff held informational meetings with local civic groups, businesses and organizations. In addition, twelve open meetings were held over a number of months to inform the general public. Various funding solutions were discussed with the City Council, including increased taxes and the formation of a fee based utility. The funding solutions were compared for cost of administration, equity, and ease of development. After reviewing the studies and conducting numerous public meetings and a public hearing, the Council determined that establishing a utility was the best solution for meeting the funding needs.
The City Council passed Ordinance 12-133 establishing the Stormwater Utility in May 2012. On October 22, 2012, the City Council through Council Order 12-342 set the utility rate at $22.00 per year for the first 3000 square feet of impervious area and $11.00 per year for each additional 1000 square feet of impervious area.
What are the utility fees based on?
The stormwater utility fee is based on a property’s total impervious area rounded to the nearest 1,000 square feet. The total area is multiplied by a dollar amount per 1,000 square feet to produce the property’s stormwater fee. For all properties, the first 3,000 square feet is charged a fee of $22 per year. For properties with an impervious area greater than 3,000 feet, an additional fee of $11 per year per 1,000 square feet is added to the total.
For example, a property with 6,000 square feet of impervious area would pay $55.00 per year. This property would therefore receive a quarterly bill of $13.75.
You will not be charged a stormwater utility fee if your property has less than 500 square feet of impervious area.
How is impervious area measured?
The City uses aerial photography and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software to measure all impervious areas in the city. Aerial photography is updated every few years so that changes in impervious area that might not be otherwise apparent via subdivision or site plan approval will be taken into account.
Who has to pay?
All property owners within the City of Bangor with one or more parcels of land containing 500 or more square feet of impervious area will pay a stormwater fee. That includes homeowners, public and private schools, public facilities, houses of worship and other non-profit organizations, and businesses.
Why are houses of worship and schools being billed?
The stormwater fee, just like a water or sewer fee, is not a tax. It is a fee based on the cost of services provided and is collected from everyone who receives the service. Houses of worship, non-profit organizations and schools contribute stormwater because of the impervious area in their buildings and parking lots. They are treated like all other customers under the rate structure.
I have a retail store in a shopping center and currently receive a water bill. Will I get the stormwater bill as well?
All impervious area within one property location will be consolidated into one bill. For a multi-tenant facility, such as a shopping center or apartment complex, there will be a single bill. The bill will be sent to the owner as shown on the database maintained by the City’s Assessors. The owner is responsible for paying the bill.
Are we the only city with a stormwater utility fee?
No. There are a number of communities in Maine that have established or are considering a Stormwater Utility and associated fees. Nationally, there are hundreds of cities of all sizes that have established stormwater utilities similar to Bangor’s.
Where does the money go?
The revenue from the stormwater fee will be placed in a separate fund that, by ordinance, can only be spent for stormwater activities. Some of the important components of this program include:
a. Development of stormwater design standards and regulations
b. Improved and increased maintenance/repair of the City’s stormwater system
c. Public information and education concerning stormwater issues to reduce pollution
d. Improved stormwater quality through monitoring and reduction of illicit discharges
e. Design, permitting and construction of stormwater projects including stream restoration
f. Field inspection/enforcement of these standards.
g. Low impact development, green infrastructure projects, and best management practices
Specific watershed management plans have already been developed or are being developed for three of Bangor’s streams: Penjajawoc Stream, Birch Stream, and Capehart Brook. Over the next few years, watershed management plans will be developed for Bangor’s other impaired streams. Additional City initiatives are outlined in the City’s MS4 permit.
Isn’t there already a specific fund for stormwater or drainage?
No. The City’s General Fund provides limited funding. A dedicated revenue stream will allow the City to accomplish the Federal and State mandates for water quality improvement.
Why should I have to pay? I have no drainage problems.
You may not have a problem, but the runoff generated from your property contributes to problems downstream. The approach taken by this program recognizes that everyone contributes to runoff and pollution and everyone will share in the benefits (improved water quality, reduced flooding, better access to roads, etc.).
What if I have constructed stormwater controls on my property already?
The stormwater utility has established a credit system to evaluate stormwater control facilities and a credit may be available. Please call the Engineering Department at (207) 992-4183 to initiate the process of determining whether a credit will be applied to the property. Additional information can be found at the Credits page.
What happens if the City of Bangor fails to meet the regulations and requirements of the EPA and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection?
Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA can levy fines against the City of Bangor of up to $25,000 a day.
What if I believe my bill is incorrect?
To request a review of your stormwater fee amount or the square footage assessment, you may obtain an “appeal of current stormwater fee assessment” form from the City Engineering Department. This form will be made available on the City’s web site.
Return the completed form and any attachments within 30 days of receiving your service fee bill to the office of:
Director of Public Services, 73 Harlow Street, Bangor, ME 04401
Your appeal will be reviewed within 30 days and you will receive notice of the results. A field crew may come to your location to measure your property’s impervious area.