WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - With the Cape Fear region finally seeing some much-needed rain after months of drought, one of New Hanover County’s major efforts for the new fiscal year is much more top of mind.
Officials are considering establishing a stormwater utility in unincorporated areas of the county, which at this point defers nearly all stormwater management to private property owners, and will host a series of public meetings to get feedback from various stakeholders.
“We are trying to get that input," County Engineer Jim Iannucci said. "We have an idea of some of the things that we like to do with the utility, but we really want to hear from them, and make sure that we are addressing those needs, and setting it up effectively, so that if we were to go live with this program next year that we would be ready to go.”
A stormwater utility is a fee-funded program designed to provide stormwater management services such as maintenance, repairs and capital-improvement projects.
“It’s going to help with some of the areas prone to flooding, but really the goal is to improve drainage across the entire county and that’s to the Cape Fear River or to the intercoastal waterway," Iannucci said.
New Hanover County began evaluating the possibility of having its own stormwater utility during the 2017-18 fiscal year, and in the time since has conducted a series of feasibility studies creating a framework of what it would look like.
Now, the county is trying to flesh out the specifics in order to keep up with a timeline that has the utility being part of the 2020 budget.
“Really, we’ve got the framework in established,” Iannucci said. “We really want to hear from them of what they like us to provide them.”
He said it’s too early to know what the fees would be, but said at the moment they plan to have one fee structure for residential properties, and a separate one for non-residential zones.
Residential properties would be assessed a flat rate fee while non-residential rates would be calculated based on the amount of impervious cover on the lot.
To establish a stormwater utility, the county would need to acquire hundreds of drainage easements from property owners throughout the county.
Then, based on the level of service citizens and the New Hanover County Commission determine is appropriate, the county would provide maintenance and repairs to things like culverts, pipes and ditches.
Property owners could still do minor landscaping, but the easements would restrict any fencing or buildings within the area dedicated.
A utility would make some issues, such as what was experienced by homeowners in Tidalholm Village after Hurricane Florence, more avoidable.
“The utility is mainly going to be for drainage, and maintaining the flow, but flooding and other things like that is kind of a large scale level of that," Iannucci said, "and so I think there are some benefits and improvements that can be made. Really, looking at areas that we may be had some issues, trying to address them, and really looking at it from a overall standpoint.”
After getting feedback from stakeholders, Iannucci said they plan to take that information back to the county commission to discuss. That will likely take place in August, but that isn’t set in stone.
Once they receive direction, he said, they plan to begin finalizing plans for the utility in order to be ready for the county budgeting process that begins in December.
In early 2020, he said they would have more public meetings to discuss the specifics of the program as well as the fees.
To find out if your property is included in the unincorporated area of the county, click here.