A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Group threatens to sue Albany over rain permit

Written February 8th, 2020 by Hasso Hering

The Willamette River in Albany on Oct. 29, 2019.

Willamette Riverkeeper, a Portland-based nonprofit, claims Albany is violating the federal Clean Water Act by not having a permit to discharge rainwater runoff to the Willamette River and other waterways. The city says the claim is unwarranted.

On Jan. 31, Riverkeeper sent the city an eight-page “notice of intent to sue” unless the city gets a so-called Phase II MS4 (for “small municipal separate stormwater system”) permit and complies with it in 60 days.

The federal law requires stormwater discharge permits for cities of 50,000 people or more, a size Albany reached with the 2010 census. But in Oregon the law is administered by the state Department of Environmental Quality, which has not pressed the point until relatively recently.

“Since at least April 1, 2010, the city of Albany has repeatedly failed and refused to apply for, obtain, or comply with a … stormwater MS4 permit and is discharging stormwater to these waters without a permit,” Riverkeeper says in its notice.

Late Friday, City Attorney Sean Kidd issued a statement in response. “The January 31, 2020, letter contains many factual and legal errors,” it says in part. “Pursuant to Oregon law, Albany submitted to the … DEQ a notification for coverage under a Phase II Municipal Stormwater permit in 2015. DEQ did not process that notification because, DEQ said, it was developing a general permit applicable to all Phase II communities. DEQ finally issued the general permit in late 2018. Albany was compelled to challenge aspects of that permit that conflict with state and federal laws. That challenge is pending.

“Albany is active every day in advancing a cleaner environment,” the city adds. “Albany shares the environmental stewardship goal that the Willamette Riverkeeper also proclaims. Forcing the city to divert its scarce funding and staffing toward this threatened lawsuit is counterproductive at best.”

Anticipating the need to have a better stormwater program once the DEQ got around to issuing a permit, Albany officials started in 2015 to plan for a new stormwater utility fee (routinely called a “rain tax” on this site), started collecting it in early 2017, and increased it since.

Currently a contractor for the city is completing a $7.2 million pipeline system to prevent sewer overflows along the Willamette during heavy rainstorms.

This is the second notice to sue Albany that Riverkeeper has issued. Last summer, a long forgotten sewer pipe broke and spilled its contents to the Willamette just as the boaters in Riverkeeper’s annual paddle trip floated by. No suit has been filed in that case, and Kidd said negotiations between the organization and the city’s lawyers are still going on. (hh)

9 responses to “Group threatens to sue Albany over rain permit”

  1. TBOSS says:

    Compliance = NEW TAXES and or INCREASING EXISTING TAXES! Accountability Needed Without TAXING!

  2. Ben Roche says:

    I’m glad somebody is looking out for the clean waters. Do you have any information about them suing Portland for not enforcing public camping along the Willamette in Columbia River or leaving zombie boats to float in the rivers? Have they sued Portland or Salem for discharging sewage. Thank you for your good reporting.

  3. My Real Name John Hartman says:

    The author writes, arguably in defense of the City’s actions to preserve the river when he writes, “Anticipating the need to have a better stormwater program once the DEQ got around to issuing a permit, Albany officials started in 2015 to plan for a new stormwater utility fee (routinely called a “rain tax” on this site), started collecting it in early 2017, and increased it since.”

    It is almost impossible to count the number of times the author, and others who run in the author’s circle, has opined about the City’s “Rain Tax,” generally adopting pejorative language to describe the author’s “feelings about the tax.”

    Yet, in this instance, when the pressure to comply comes from DEQ and Riverkeepers (demons from Salem and Portland) then suddenly the City’s efforts, including the previously-despised “Rain Tax” now seem reasonable…in the author’s estimation.

    Since you can’t have it both ways, we could chalk-up the attitudinal shift to provincialism.

  4. H. R. Richner says:

    What a friendly world it could be if those busybodies ever found something else to do. When Albany had 49,999 inhabitants the river was doing well enough apparently, but that 50,000th cost us all a bundle. If North Albany is part of that, why not let it secede as it is already in a different county.

  5. Cap says:

    The city of Albany pulls out phrase, “scarce funding and staffing,” when it suits them.
    Tell you what, City of Albany: Disband CARA (urban renewal which skims property taxes) and you will have more money to comply with stormwater and sewage laws.
    What is that you say? You have 24 million to pave over part of the waterfront and put in a fountain? You should maybe rethink that.

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      Unfortunately, CARA gets its cash by issuing bonds. So far, CARA has put Albany taxpayers on the hook for the 2007A bond with an outstanding balance of about $5,000,000. And a streetscape bond with an outstanding balance of about $7,500,000.

      And to top it off, if the riverfront fiasco happens this will add another bond of about $22,000,000.

      So, almost $40,000,000 of debt hangs around the necks of local taxpayers, their kids, their grandkids, and perhaps their great grandkids.

      CARA then skims tax revenues away from essential services provided by the taxing districts without taxpayer approval to service this huge debt.

      This will likely result in the district’s seeking other revenue sources to fill the gap CARA created. Look what is happening with the city’s general fund. CARA will take about $1,500,000 this fiscal year. Is it any wonder the city has a budget issue?

      Disbanding CARA today would only avoid the riverfront bond given it hasn’t been issued yet. CARA must still pay back the $12,500,000 it owes for the issued bonds.

      The council can’t disband CARA until ALL the debts are paid. Given the current plan that will be many, many years in the future.

      Get used to the yapping from the lap dogs who love CARA. It’s been going on since 2001 and will not cease for several more generations.

      • Ray Kopczynski says:

        If anyone wishes to stay “in tune” with the riverfront project, this info is a good place to start (from the City Manager’s office):

        Albany Waterfront Project: Work on the project is moving at a fast pace. The technical advisory group (City staff) have met with the Walker Macy team, and will meet again later this month. A Public Engagement and Communications Plan has been developed, including communication objectives, key messages, audiences, schedule, protocols and branding, decision making process, and outreach measures and monitoring. Engagement activities include:
        • Informational fact sheets that update throughout the project
        • Stakeholder lists and in-person interviews
        • A project-specific website
        • Notification of adjacent property owners
        • Community meetings
        • Overview video
        • Informational emails/mailers/flyers
        • Online open houses
        • Media advisories
        • Virtual tour
        The project website, http://albanywaterfront.net/ will contain updates, information, and the option to sign up for email communication about the project. The project email, info@albanywaterfront.net will allow staff to manage questions about the project and send updates to those who have signed up for information.

  6. centrist says:

    Let’s break this down
    Riverkeepers want to sue the City of Albany for not having a Stormwater Discharge Permit.
    A population increase put the City into a regulatory category which requires such a permit.
    The City applied timely, but has not received a permit from the regulator.
    The suit threat is a non-event, but will likely divert City resources from constructive tasks.

  7. Rachel La Brasseur says:

    Too bad collecting rainwater is illegal. Let us have rainwater collections for use in many different ways seems like a win win for the river and the state


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