Goldsboro News Argus Feb. 25, 2007

Building costs headed up for Wayne developers

By Matthew Whittle

The cost of building in Wayne County could be increasing soon -- in part because of measures outside anybody's control, but also because of fee increases currently being fought in the state legislature.

One set of fees, administered through the state Division of Water Quality, is being held at their current rates until September.

Those are the nitrogen offset fees charged to those 10 cities and five counties, including Goldsboro and Wayne County, within the Neuse River basin to help control the amount of nitrates flowing into the river and its tributaries.

The fees are levied when new development allows more than 3.6 pounds of nitrates to flow into the water. To mitigate that flow, contractors can either install mechanical or natural control devices or pay into a fund, which allows the state to install controls on another project somewhere in the basin.

The current rate is $11 per pound, per acre for 30 years -- $330 for one pound of nitrate over one acre. The increase, which went into effect in March 2006, changed that rate to $50.

However, last summer, the legislature passed a bill rolling back the fees to the original $11 level until the issue could be studied. The fees were scheduled to remain at that lower level until September 2007.

"We feel that was too much at one time," Wayne County planning director Connie Price said.

He also said that the fees a problem because they only target a select few areas.

"It's not a statewide rule," he continued. "It just applies to certain communities within the Neuse River Basin."

And that, he added, could create an unfair situation when it comes to economic development.

"We're just trying to have a level playing field," he said.

Now, efforts are under way to either permanently roll back the increases or at least keep them lowered for another year or two until a study commission can be put together and come back with a report.

"The concern is that if a study commission is supposed to look into it, it might be after September before they come back," Price said.

Other cost increases currently being lobbied against are the Ecosystem Enhancement Program wetland restoration fees for urban counties, which includes Wayne.

The commission is asking to increase the fees by $100 per linear foot of stream, by $28,000 per acre of riparian wetlands and by $7,000 per acre for non-riparian wetlands.

The current fees are $232 per linear foot of stream, $13,924 per acre of non-riparian wetlands and $27,847 per acre of riparian wetlands.

Those fees are applied to projects if the developers don't take steps to mitigate any alterations made to streams or wetlands on the property. Then, like the other fees, the money is used to restore wetlands in other areas.

The North Carolina Home Builders Association, while supporting the fee program, does not feel that the EEP has justified the need for the increase and has not shown that the extra funds would be used for mitigation projects rather than administrative costs.

Right now, the proposal is still being reviewed by the Environmental Management Commission, association spokeswoman Lisa Martin said. It likely will be next year before it goes before the General Assembly.

But overall, Price said, the cost of construction in Wayne County is likely to continue to go up.

"We'd rather see the fees stay at the levels they're currently at. It just adds to the overall cost of the development," he said. "The cost of building is going up for a variety of reasons, but these fees are part of it."

By Matthew Whittle