Darby Creek Advocate Volume 11, Issue 1  January 2003

DCA Seeks EPA Stormwater Protections at New Target Compound in West Jeff

Editor’s Note: Last issue we discussed the new Target Distribution Center that is being built adjacent to Little Darby Creek in West Jefferson. The Target Center—which is only the first stage of a larger commercial complex planned for the area—will reportedly be the largest building in central Ohio. DCA is deeply concerned about the potential for damage to Little Darby, and downstream sections of Big Darby, from the tremendous area of impervious surface this and future projects will add to the watershed. The site will generate a tremendous quantity of stormwater, which could damage instream habitat and introduce pollutants to the creek.

Below is a copy of a letter DCA sent to the Ohio EPA expressing our concerns. At the end of this
letter, we summarize the response we have gotten to date. As the reader will see, the response has not allayed all of our fears.

(Letter to Harry Kallipolitis, Storm Water Specialist, Ohio EPA, dated Oct. 14, 2002.)

Dr. Mr. Kallipolitis;

By way of background, the Darby Creek Association is a non-profit watershed group founded in 1972. Our mission is to protect, preserve, and restore the Darby Creek ecosystem. With respect to the Target project in West Jefferson, our goal is to see that stormwater runoff from the site does not negatively impact adjacent and downstream sections of Little Darby Creek. As you are no doubt aware, Little Darby Creek is a nationally significant bioreserve, and is habitat for numerous state listed, and at least one federally endangered species (clubshell mussel, Pleurobema clava).

In our conversation, you made it clear that although you have been in discussions involving ODNR employees of the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, Scenic River Program, your division does not consult with OEPA biologists in determining impacts on biology in issuing general stormwater permits or recommending levels of post-construction treatment of stormwater. There thus appears to be a disconnect between the EPA's own anti-degradation rules and its stormwater permitting process. In light of this, DCA is asking you to take the following steps to assure that the Target project does not negatively impact the biology, collectively and at the species level, of Little Darby Creek:

· Consult with biologists in your agency to coordinate recommendations for protective measures in the Target site's post-construction stormwater treatment. It is imperative that water quality and biological performance data and research compiled by the EPA have a tangible role in the agency's permitting of stormwater discharges.

· Review and consider findings of the recent TMDL studies of the Darby watershed conducted by your agency. For instance, in a recent summary issued by the EPA it was announced that your agency found numerous chemical exceedences of expected pollutant loading in both Big and Little Darby. The summary also cited a "hardening" of the watershed, leading to increased stormwater quantity, as a growing problem. Such data should guide your agency on what recommendations it makes regarding post-construction stormwater quantity and quality at all permitted sites in the Darby watershed. 

· The Target site should be in compliance with anti-degradation rules. In the EPA's revised anti-degradation rules, Little Darby has been designated as a State Resource Water. This designation limits total discharges of pollutants to 30 percent of Little Darby's assimilative capacity. The EPA should determine current levels of pollutant loading in Little Darby, as well as Little Darby's assimilative capacity. It should then be determined if post-construction pollutant loading from the Target site will keep downstream sections of Little Darby below the 30 percent threshold. It is important to recognize that every time a truck loses a gas or oil line, every time a radiator hose breaks, there is a potential for toxic pollutants to be introduced into runoff from the site. In addition, the EPA should take into account that the Target center is merely the first project in a major industrial park. The agency should consider, or urge local governments to consider, how a decision to allow pollutant loading from the Target site will impact future requests for permits to discharge, or future levels of discharge from West Jefferson's wastewater treatment plant, given the restrictions that are mandated under EPA anti-degradation rules.

· Your agency should consult with U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists to determine potential impacts on the clubshell mussel, a federally endangered species.

· Require the site to use best available technologies for stormwater retention and treatment.

· Describe a response, containment, and clean-up strategy for the inevitable spills that will occur at a facility housing numerous trucks.

· Make data and deliberations from the above process available to the public in a coherent and timely manner.

Because the Target project is merely the first of many potential sites in West Jefferson's industrial
park, and because West Jefferson itself is expected to grow residentially in coming years, DCA believes that the best approach is for that municipality to develop a comprehensive stormwater management plan for the area. Certainly the site of the industrial park has adequate land to construct effective retention and treatment. The EPA should take steps to encourage this process, and should begin by laying out the restrictions mandated by its own anti-degradation rules and TMDL findings. Obviously it would be far better to start an effective planning process at the beginning of development, rather than at some later date.

The EPA has been committed to the protection of the Darbys for many years. However, the challenges the streams face are becoming more complex even as instream biological performance wavers.
It is imperative that the different divisions within EPA cooperate to insure that biological and chemical assessment set the standards for permitted discharges. Only through such a process can the state's anti-degradation rules be implemented and stand a chance of achieving their goals.

EPA response

In its response, the EPA assured DCA that the Target site’s stormwater management will be adequate to protect Little Darby. Improvements to the site include two extended retention ponds which “will provide water quality treatment which will not only provide measures to break down any potential contaminants, such as oil and grease, but will provide a release rate acceptable to maintain the integrity of downstream areas.”

The agency also promises to consult with biologists in its Environmental Assessment unit, and it will see that “sensitive areas downstream will be monitored and future integrity is maintained.”

Unfortunately, the EPA is not willing to consider pollutants from runoff under the state’s anti-
degradation regulations. In other words, pollution from stormwater discharges, even if from gigantic sites such as the Target complex, are exempt from standard pollution limits. This is true even for streams designated Exceptional Warmwater Habitat such as the Darbys. As a result, pollutant discharges from the site will not be monitored or regulated.

Such loopholes in EPA protections are frustrating. The Clean Water Act was intended to guarantee that high quality waters are preserved. The spirit of the law’s anti-degradation requirement is that states
should guarantee their high quality streams do not decline. Ohio currently does not offer this guarantee, even in the case of Darby. When stormwater quantity and quality are not monitored and controlled, the anti-degradation goal may be impossible to achieve.

DCA will continue to monitor the Target site, including monitoring mussel populations downstream of the stormwater discharge.

John Tetzloff