GRAND RAPIDS — A wave of stricter stormwater management requirements are going into effect across the state, highlighting the need for additional funding tools to help developers and businesses create green infrastructure.
The new Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) requirements — which are being phased in under new permits for Michigan cities — mandate that new construction or large additions to existing projects must now be able to handle two-and-a-half-year storm events as stormwater infiltrates sites.
Under its latest stormwater permit issued by EGLE, the city of Grand Rapids will also have more stringent water quality testing requirements as well as onsite maintenance requirements for stormwater, explained Carrie Rivette, the city’s wastewater/stormwater maintenance superintendent.
“The really big change is maintenance,” Rivette told MiBiz. “We will be having maintenance agreements for properties and every two years we’ll be flagging sites and have them send us information about their stormwater management. It will be a big change — we’ve had a significant number of businesses in Grand Rapids choose to do green infrastructure and stormwater infiltration on site, but now it will be required on a larger scale.”
The city adopted changes to its stormwater ordinance that went into effect in August to comply with the new state regulations. The city is also in the process of creating a stormwater credit trading program, Rivette said.
“Our hope with the credit trading program is to make it as easy as possible to the business and still get the environmental benefits,” Rivette said.
The credit trading program essentially allows corporations or nonprofits that have the property and the resources to build the stormwater infrastructure that exceeds state requirements to sell credits to sites that can not fully comply, Rivette said.
The Grand Rapids City Commission on Oct. 4 approved a one-year, $35,000 agreement with American Rivers, a nonprofit focused on river conservation. The nonprofit has been working with Grand Rapids since 2017 on the city’s storm sewer permit renewal with the state, and will now continue to work with the city to finalize and support its stormwater credit trading program. Under the year-long agreement, American Rivers will continue calculations for program participants to launch the stormwater credit training program.
“Especially for a city like Grand Rapids where we are trying to revitalize our river, we have to look at the stormwater more closely,” Rivette said. “It helps water quality, reduces the load off our system and reduces flooding and overall makes for a better environment. Overall, (increased stormwater management) benefits the surface water in the area, especially in the Grand River and eventually in Lake Michigan. Everything we’re doing helps water quality and reduces flooding.”
Serving as an example
Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses (GRABB) CEO Jamiel Robinson said strong stormwater management infrastructure is included in the site plan for the organization’s future headquarters on Grand Rapids’ south side.
“One of the things when we were first looking at this project was how we could be an example of how to do incremental community development, but also bring some of the best practices as well for sustainability,” Robinson said.
Plans for GRABB’s headquarters have been delayed several times, partly because of the pandemic, but Robinson hopes to start construction on the facility located at 2012 Eastern Ave. SE in early 2023. The organization recently received building permits but is waiting for permits for the parking lot and outdoor market space, he said. The District 2012 project will serve as an incubator for Black-owned businesses to give entrepreneurs coworking resources and space to sell their products.
The recent statewide changes in stormwater requirements and working with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council led Robinson to apply for the 319 grant program through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. GRABB recently received more than $100,000 from the grant program to fund stormwater infrastructure for the District 2012 parking lot area, which is designed to also serve as a community market and gathering space.
“It is a really great opportunity to be an example, because if you look at typical green infrastructure or even stormwater infrastructure, you don’t see a lot of it that is guided or led by people of color,” Robinson said. “We were already planning to do some stormwater management stuff on our site, but this helped us take it to the next level.”
The parking lot and outdoor marketplace will serve a similar function to other markets like the Fulton Street Farmers Market, Robinson explained. The 319 grant will allow the organization to “green up” the area to help with stormwater management, Robinson said.
The city of Grand Rapids is also in the process of making some improvements to the alleyway adjacent to the District 2012 property, which will make the whole area more walkable, Robinson added.