Stormwater Update: Cleaning Up Our Rivers and Streams

Cynthia Whitty
Property owners will receive their first bill in August
Issue Date: 
July, 2019
Article Body: 

The November 2018 town meeting authorized the creation of an Enterprise Fund, which created a new department, the Stormwater Management Utility (SMU), within the Ashland Department of Public Works (DPW). Working in collaboration with the Stormwater Advisory Committee (SWAC), the SMU is gearing up to reduce Ashland’s pollution and ensure that the town is in full compliance with its EPA MS4 Stormwater Permit.
The town is sweeping streets and cleaning storm drains like it always has, but it is also tracking which streets are dirtier and which storm drains are more than 50 percent full. Under the new permit, those streets and storm drains will be cleaned more often. SMU personnel are being trained and will soon begin sampling the water flowing from ‘outfalls’—places where stormwater flows into streams and wetlands. Any pollutants detected will be analyzed, and if found to be in excess of acceptable amounts, must be traced to their source and remediated.
The town also has a new bylaw sponsored by SWAC and passed at the May 2019 town meeting. This new bylaw, required by the permit and pending approval by the Massachusetts Attorney General, gives DPW personnel the authority to take whatever steps necessary to eliminate the source of pollution, including pollution originating on private land.
The Cost to
Reduce Pollution
All of this new and increased activity has a cost. Beginning in August the Town of Ashland Water and Sewer bill is now titled ‘Water, Sewer and Stormwater Bill.’ Every property owner will receive a quarterly stormwater bill appearing as a separate line on the combined bill. Like sewer and water, stormwater is now a fee-based service—the service being the assurance of cleaner rivers and streams, a healthier town and environment. The Ashland Select Board (formerly the Board of Selectmen) and DPW adopted the two-tier user fee structure recommended by SWAC.
Tier 1, for single family homes, condos, and undeveloped non-commercial land, sets the per parcel user fee at $8.75 per quarter ($35.00 per year). This so-called ‘flat fee’ is the same for everyone in this tier. The fee is less than the $40/year initially recommended and gives the decision makers time to evaluate and set fees based on real data instead of projections.
Tier 2 includes all commercial properties (including apartments) and tax-exempt properties (not-for-profit properties and all government properties). Tier 2 fees are variable and are set at 80¢ per 100 square feet of ‘Impervious Area’ (IA) with a minimum quarterly charge of $20. Impervious area is any surface that prevents or significantly impedes the infiltration of water into the underlying soil, such as buildings, driveways and parking areas. It also includes other structures and areas created using non-porous material such as artificial turf, compacted gravel or soil. Tier 2 fees are also billed quarterly.
“This is a very fair and equitable fee structure,” Steve Mitchell, Ashland Select Board chair, said. “It balances the burden between homes and businesses and is less than what other towns and cities are charging.”
To calculate the impervious area, the DPW worked with Tighe & Bond, a contractor with expertise in analyzing aerial photography. For some parcels the IA was verified on the ground. As an aid to Tier 2 property owners, Town Engineer Evan White created an IA map that displays the IA defined for their property. The online map can be found on the Town of Ashland SWAC web page and on the Ashland DPW stormwater web page. Visit and type the address. The map will show the IA of that address as a shaded area (Tier 2 only). Click the shaded impervious area to see the actual calculation in square feet.
For stormwater fee-related questions, read the Frequently Asked Questions document on the DPW or SWAC web pages, or call the special stormwater number, 508-881-0109, and leave a message and your name, address and phone number.