ATLANTA - Georgia builders would pay permit fees to finance stepped-up efforts to curb water pollution near construction sites, under a plan being crafted by state environmental regulators.
The two-tiered fee is part of legislation the Environmental Protection Division will push during this winter's General Assembly session.
Builders and developers would pay $80 per acre in cities and counties that rely on the state to run their erosion-control programs. In municipalities that operate their own programs, the fee would be $40 an acre.
The fees would raise $5.3 million per year to help the state hire 80 inspectors and fund a training and certification program.
"The fees are the key," said David Word, the EPD's assistant director. "If EPD doesn't have the people, we can't do what everybody says needs to be done."
The need to improve how the state manages construction-related runoff came to light in an audit released more than a year ago, which found a substantial increase in pollution of rivers and streams near work sites.
The report cited inadequate enforcement of a 1975 state law that requires builders to show they have taken steps to prevent erosion from construction sites. The audit was particularly critical of under-funded permitting programs run by local governments.
Indeed, the EPD has decertified local programs in 12 counties and 42 cities in the past 18 months, forcing the state to take over inspections in those communities. The only decertification in the Augusta area was in Waynesboro.
Georgia's Board of Natural Resources asked the EPD last year to put the bill before the General Assembly this year. But the agency has held off until now, partly because representatives of developers, municipal governments and environmental groups hadn't had time to contribute their input.
Although the various interested parties have had a chance to weigh in, they still haven't reached consensus on the plan.
Bettie Sleeth, the vice president for regulatory affairs for the Homebuilders Association of Georgia, said builders will support the fees if they can be sure the money is spent for the intended purposes.
"We don't need fees just to create another bureaucracy," she said.
Tom Gehl, the policy development manager for the Georgia Municipal Association, said city officials are worried that local governments will be forced to shoulder some of the cost, even those that are willing to turn their programs over to the state.
"(The state) couldn't do this by themselves with 1,000 people," he said.