JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Johns Creek moved forward with plans for its own stormwater utility April 12 when the City Council voted to hire Jacobs Engineering Group to manage the service.
Council members also discussed a plan to maintain the nearly 500 stormwater retention ponds within the city limits.
Jacobs will operate the utility as a division within the city’s Public Works Department. The three-year contract comes at an annual cost of $490,000 and begins July 1.
The council vote was unanimous, with Mayor Mike Bodker and Councilwoman Erin Elwood absent.
Though he voted for the contract, Councilman John Bradberry said he had concerns with adding another contract with Jacobs, which already provides services to the city.
“I don’t feel like I’ve got another option, so I’m going to vote for the motion,” he said.
Councilwoman Stephanie Endres said she is glad to get the ball rolling to address a problem that has plagued the city for years.
As part of the agreement, the city will purchase three trucks for use by the stormwater division.
In league with the city’s focus on stormwater, council members devoted a portion of an earlier work session to consider options on how Johns Creek can maintain the myriad retention ponds used to hold runoff.
Assistant City Manager Kimberly Greer said the city has 480 of these ponds, many in need of maintenance if they are to work in conjunction with the city’s new stormwater utility. Most of the ponds are on private property and are not within the city’s control.
Nevertheless, in her report to city officials, Greer said the ponds serve as a vital component to a municipal stormwater system.
Prompted by earlier suggestions from elected officials, Greer said the city explored ways it could help provide incentives to residents for dredging and maintaining the ponds.
Stormwater retention ponds are designed to collect and release stormwater to remove pollutants and control runoff rates to minimize impacts downstream. During rain events, ponds fill from the stormwater runoff collected for the designed drainage area, and the pond outlet controls the rate of the stormwater release to prevent downstream flooding and erosion.
In the 1980s and 1990s, many developers built ponds near homes and bordering backyards as a marketing feature.
But, in her report to city leaders, Greer said most of the ponds haven’t been tended for years and have filled with siltation and need to be dredged.
Based on guidance from the council, Greer said staff developed a list of incentives property owners could use to help defray costs for maintaining the ponds. The incentives, she said, could be tied to providing the city rights to inspect the ponds.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division requires privately owned stormwater management structures, including detention and retention ponds, that were designed after Dec. 9, 2009 to have maintenance agreements with the city. In general, the maintenance agreements compel the owner to maintain the pond and allow the city to inspect and require maintenance if it is not being completed. But, because the majority of the stormwater ponds in Johns Creek were built before 2009, the city has little or no authority to compel owners to act.
Dredging costs can run into six-figures, the report stated.
One incentive mentioned in the report suggested offsetting maintenance costs by providing property owners with credits on their monthly utility bills, which are now estimated at around $5-$6. The report also proposed the city could set aside a share of General Fund dollars for a dredging assistance program, or it could fund the service from the Infrastructure Maintenance Accrual portion of the city budget.
Members of the City Council said they were taken aback by the report, and they favored exploring ways to incentivize stormwater pond maintenance.
City Councilwoman Stephanie Endres advised city staff to explore other funding assistance from the Georgia DOT, the Atlanta Regional Commission, the school district and Fulton County.
Councilman Chris Coughlin said he has learned a lot about stormwater issues, and he hopes residents will take the initiative to educate themselves about the subject as the utility rolls out. He said he has long favored addressing stormwater beyond city streets, and getting residents on board through incentives makes sense.
Greer said government incentives for private retention ponds do exist, but programs are scarce in Metro Atlanta. Roswell has a program offering 50 percent of approved costs up to $500,000.
“They’ve only used it once,” Greer said.
The next steps in the process, Greer said, will be to work out the criteria for those ponds eligible for assistance, and what share of the costs the city would provide.
Councilman Lenny Zaprowski said developing a plan for maintenance — tying small and large, new and old ponds into an evaluation process — may be more than the city can handle without help from experts.
“This is a start in the right direction,” he said. “I think the devil will be in the details.”