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City council passes state mandate with unease

The Oak Harbor City Council withouth enthusiasm approved a mandate by the Washington state Department of Ecology, to add a new chapter the the city’s stormwater management code.

A program to reduce water pollution, called the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Phase II Stormwater Permit, is aimed at reducing pollution by both individuals and businesses.

The permit requires city officials to make significant policy and operational changes to the current code.

The new rules are supposed to reduce or eliminate sources of pollution through the city’s stormwater drainage system.

The changes require the city to adopt an ordinance prohibiting the release of any substance other than stormwater into the city stormwater drainage system. The ordinance outlines what is an is not a legal material into the city’s stormwater system.

However, Councilwoman Beth Munns is concerned that the ordinance doesn’t provide a clear definition of a “spill.”

“Will the city define what a ‘spill’ is since the state doesn’t seem to have one?” she asked Eric Johnston, city engineer.

Johnson couldn’t provide a clear answer, however, because of the permit’s nature.

“At this point it’s reflecting the language of the permit,” he said. “As a city, we are responsible for any contaminant that enters the system.”

The ordinance will be implemented through a “stepped-level” of enforcement, he said.

“Our intent was not to be threatening. Our goal is to be educational, but we do have the ability to take legal actions,” he said of any individual or business that refuses to comply with the new ordinance.

Councilman Rick Almberg made his disapproval of the ordinance clear.

“For the public’s benefit: This is an unfunded mandate from the state,” he said.

The council adopted an ordinance, which added a new chapter to the “Illicit Discharge Prohibited” section of the Oak Harbor Municipal Code, with an unanimous -- but reluctant -- vote.

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