The City of Lambertville is at the bottom of a hill, next to a river, and all the nearby creeks flow down to the city. Flooding has always been an issue in the riverside city.
Climate change is bound to only make flooding more prevalent. But the devastation from Hurricane Ida in 2021 opened up the conversation about flood preparation.
At a June council meeting, Lambertville councilmembers and a crowded room of residents attended a stormwater utility presentation from New Jersey Future, a nonprofit that focuses on combining sustainability and economic growth.
If Lambertville were to adopt a stormwater utility, they’d be the first city in New Jersey to do so. The councilmembers are conducting a feasibility study as a first step.
“If, after the study has been completed, the data suggests a stormwater utility is advisable, I will seek to take the matter directly to the Lambertville voters through a referendum,” Mayor Andrew J. Nowick said.
Obviously, a stormwater utility can pay for the establishment of a stormwater utility. It also pays for the capital expenditures and operations and maintenance necessary to maintain it. Key benefits of a stormwater utility are that it gives flood-risk cities like Lambertville a dedicated fund source. It also is an equity, stable utility for the area, according to the presentation.
Three speakers from the nonprofit delivered the presentation. They were Program Manager Lindsay Sigmund, New Jersey Sustainable Business Council Executive Director Richard Lawton and Campaigns Director James Thompson.
The gist of the presentation was to help the council and the residents decide whether a stormwater utility is something they should consider. It also explained what a stormwater utility is, and why the speakers think it makes sense for cities like Lambertville.
Sigmund explained how possessing the right infrastructure to defend themselves from stormwater is important. She also lamented over the negative effects of stormwater: It pollutes our waters, floods our communities and hurts our economy because of the damage it can cause.
Current stormwater funding comes from property taxes and sewer fees and other options include sticking to current methods, increasing property taxes and sewer fees, or adopting a stormwater utility, Sigmund said.
She let the audience know that there are over 2,000 stormwater utilities formed in the U.S.A and that this is not a partisan issue. Stormwater utilities exist in red states like Florida and blue states like California.
Creating a stormwater utility is now possible because New Jersey passed the Clean Stormwater and Flood Reduction Act in 2019, Sigmund continued.
She closed her remarks by leaving the crowd with an important rhetorical question to mull over: What the cost of inaction was.
Lawton stepped up to the podium. He mentioned a solid case study in Kingsport, Tennessee where the town overcame challenges and barriers to successfully implement a stormwater utility. Small businesses in Kingsport are now thriving and investors are flocking to the area, according to Lawtown.
Lawton continued by telling the crowd that the success of adopting a stormwater utility is not based on conventional metrics, but social and environmental impact.
He closed his remarks by asking the crowd if the increase in taxes was worth keeping the neighborhood safe from floods.
Thompson, the campaign director for the nonprofit, was the last speaker. He briefly went over their experience, expertise, the services they provide and explained what a stormwater utility is.
After the presentation, councilmembers asked the three presenters a few questions.
Councilman Evan J. Lide asked if the city should investigate regionally or just stick to Lambertville.
Sigmund said it’s rare and that she’s not aware of funding for exploring regional stormwater utilities. She recommended they apply as a county instead of just Lambertville.
When asked about the stormwater utility, Lide’s biggest concern was addressing the flooding issue on a regional scale.
“I think that stormwater management is very important, but I am concerned how Lambertville, based upon its physical location, can effectively do this by itself,” Lide said. “I would like to explore if we can partner with neighboring communities to address stormwater management on a regional level.”
There will most likely be follow-up sessions to allow the residents to ask questions and get additional information, according to Councilman Lide.
The mayor thanked the presenters for sharing their expertise, and the audience for showing up.