Municipalities and counties have until 5 p.m. Sept. 30 to apply for funding through a new, state-run program to address stormwater quality and quantity issues.
Called the Local Assistance for Stormwater Infrastructure Investments, or LASII, the grant program is administered by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water infrastructure and is funded through the state’s allocation of the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.
The program provides grants for construction and planning for stormwater projects to improve or create infrastructure for controlling stormwater quality and quantity, according to DEQ.
The new grant program “is creating an exciting opportunity to increase resiliency and to address stormwater quality and quantity needs in communities across the state,” DEQ Secretary Elizabeth Biser said during a recent webinar about the program. “State leaders have prioritized investing in water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure in our communities to improve public health, build economic capacity and make us a more resilient state.”
The North Carolina General Assembly appropriated $103.6 million to the program in the Current Operations Appropriations Act of 2021. Of that, $18.5 million was directed to 11 recipients, including $75,000 to New Bern, for stormwater projects.
The division intends to award the remaining $82 million to municipalities, counties, councils of government and nonprofit partners for construction and planning projects.
To qualify, applicants must be able to document a stormwater quality or quantity issue, and show significant hardship paying for stormwater management activities. Applications must include a resolution approved by the county or town governing board for the project.
Biser explained during the August webinar that there had been interest and support for the program, “And I’m glad because there’s also a large need. For municipalities with a population of more than 2,500 people, the Environmental Science Center estimates that there is $2.6 billion in stormwater capital spending needs between 2020 and 2034. That’s a significant need. We want to make sure to maximize the impact of the funds we have available by making strategic and equitable funding decisions.”
Investments in stormwater infrastructure are sorely needed in North Carolina’s communities, Biser said.
“Major storms, hurricanes and floods are all too familiar in our state. They endanger people’s lives. They impact water quality, and cost billions of dollars in repairs and loss revenue as municipalities and people tried to rebuild,” Biser continued. “Aging inadequate infrastructure compromises our ability to effectively address these challenges. Stormwater must be managed responsibly to protect our communities and to allow for growth. This new stormwater funding program and the Division of Water Infrastructure will tackle these problems and much more, reducing flooding of streets and structures, improving and safeguarding water quality and building more resilient communities.”
Francine Durso, a professional engineer and senior project manager with the Division of Water Infrastructure, responded to Coastal Review in an email, explaining that the stormwater grant program had been introduced to the public in March during two virtual sessions. During the sessions, which had 350 attendees, division staff collected input on prioritizing stormwater funding for construction and planning projects, project purposes and benefits, stormwater management practices, recipient characteristics, and equity or disadvantaged areas.
Durso said the division used the input to develop the draft priority rating system for construction projects and the draft priority rating system for planning projects, and worked with the State Water Infrastructure Authority to fine tune the documents. The division received around 135 comments during the public review and comment period May 4 to June 3. The draft priority rating systems were revised based on public comment and given final approval in July by the State Water Infrastructure Authority.
As part of the division’s outreach, training was offered at six locations in early Aug. 2-10 on how to apply for the fall 2022 funding. On Aug. 16, the division held a webinar solely on the stormwater funding program, during which Biser spoke.
Materials for the stormwater infrastructure funding were posted on the division website in late July. Since that time, the division has received emails with questions about LASII from about 30 to 40 people, Durso said. She said that while it’s hard to gauge how many applications will be received, the division anticipates it will be a large number.
“Throughout the webinars and in ‘How to Apply’ training, the division has stressed the importance of applicants bringing the appropriate resolution before their Governing Boards as soon as possible in order to meet the Sept. 30 application deadline,” Durso said in the email. “The Division has been responsive in answering questions, some of which have been about the resolution wording. So far, no potential applicants have mentioned that they are having difficulty with having the resolutions in time to meet the deadline.”
Nags Head Town Manager Andy Garman, told Coastal Review that the town chose to apply for the grant since there is currently limited funding available for stormwater projects in the state.
He said the town staff found the division’s outreach efforts to be helpful, especially the webinars they have hosted on available grants, eligibility requirements, funding limits, and the application rating system, as well as the individual help offered to help navigate the application process.
“Being a relatively small community situated in a dynamic coastal environment, conventional solutions to address stormwater management can be very limited when considering potential environmental impacts. As such, we are directing our focus on innovative solutions to comprehensively address areas susceptible to repetitive flooding. In the case of the proposed projects, innovation can result in additional funding needs for project implementation,” Garman said.
There are two low-lying projects areas along South Old Oregon Inlet Road in south Nags Head targeted for potential grant funding. Portions of the proposed projects were designed and bid in late-2019. The lowest bid exceeded the available funds for the two projects.
“We saw the Local Assistance for Stormwater Infrastructure Improvements as a mechanism to make up for the shortfall in funding,” Garman said.
Hertford County is also applying for funding through the program.
County Manager David Cotton told Coastal Review that the Board of Commissioners approved the three resolutions needed to apply during its Sept. 6 meeting.
Cotton said that there are several objectives associated with the resolutions, “which range from extending water services to disadvantaged areas of the county, improving water pressure in targeted regions of the system, to increased storage capacity.”
Dare County Manager Bobby Outten said in an interview that the county is interested in applying for the grant, but officials are in the midst of creating a stormwater master plan to help the county prioritize stormwater projects.
The county’s stormwater master plan is intended to “identify critical project areas and potential mitigation measures to further guide resiliency efforts and reduce future environmental impacts in the unincorporated areas of Dare County,” according to the website. There’s an online questionnaire for county residents and public meetings are set for 6 p.m. Sept. 28 in Fessenden Center Annex in Buxton and 6 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Dare County Administrative Building in Manteo.
Outten said that if the county has the necessary information to meet the Sept. 30 deadline, application would be made. If not, he said they’ll wait until the next cycle.