A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Pavement polluters would pay for more sustainable infrastructure under proposed "stormwater charge"

During a 2-inch rainstorm, the parking lots and big-box rooftops of the "Pine Tree Shopping Center" and Quirk car dealership (pictured at right) dump about 1,500,000 gallons of oil-slicked runoff pollution into Portland's sewers, which proceed to overflow into the headwaters of the Fore River.

In a city that prizes its working waterfront and its locally-caught fish and lobster, this particular form of parking pollution is a big problem. The good news is that the city has committed to a $170 million upgrade of its infrastructure to handle this pollution. Even better: for the first time ever, parking lot owners, who are responsible for a substantial amount of the pollution, might actually foot a fair share of the bill.

Right now, sewers get paid for through our water bills; parking lot owners don't pay anything, even though their asphalt sends hundreds of millions of gallons of gasoline-slicked sewage into Casco Bay each year.

But for over a year now, the city's been holding public hearings on its proposed new "stormwater charge," which is its preferred way of paying for federally-mandated sewer upgrades for Clean Water Act compliance. The city's proposal would ask property-owners to pay fees in proportion to the amount of "impermeable surface" – rooftops and pavement – that they own.

This could be a significant step towards reducing the city's environmentally-destructive subsidies for motorists. Right now, parking lot owners are getting a free pass on the pollution they cause, but with the proposed stormwater charge, parking lot owners would be forced to pay to clean up Casco Bay.

In the short term, the fee will provide more funding for "green infrastructure" projects, such as traffic-calming sidewalk extensions that incorporate stormwater filtration gardens (like the one pictured at left, which was installed on Commercial Street earlier this year). And over the longer term, the new tax on pavement will help encourage more property owners to convert low-value parking lots to more productive, more urban uses – and encourage more motorists to leave the car at home.

The idea's got a lot of momentum behind it, but he city's also hearing a lot of opposition to this idea.  Anyone who wants to weigh in with a voice of support would help.

To learn more:

And to thank a city councilor for supporting this concept: