Chester, Pennsylvania Green Stormwater Infrastructure Plan and Community-Based Public-Private Partnership

The City of Chester, Pennsylvania introduced the Chester City Green Stormwater Infrastructure Plan in 2017 as a means of addressing consistent stormwater pollution and overflow into the Delaware River, Chester Creek, and Ridley Creek watersheds. Chester’s combined sewer overflow (CSO) system often is overwhelmed during high rain and runoff events, which leads to increased flooding and water pollution and degradation of the river basin. Chester, the oldest city in Pennsylvania, is home to 34,000 of the 50,000 people serviced by the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority (DELCORA). In 2015, DELCORA entered into a consent decree with the EPA, which mandates reductions in stormwater pollution to the surrounding watersheds in order to meet Clean Water Act compliance requirements. The pollution is primarily the result of CSO and other stormwater-related events that occur throughout the region. The City is working to reduce stormwater pollution through a CBP3 to implement its green infrastructure plan over the next several decades while investing in the City’s economic growth. 

In response to a mandate requiring the City to produce a plan detailing how it would limit future CSO events, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and the Pennsylvania Sea Grant partnered to produce the Chester City Green Stormwater Infrastructure Plan. Along with identifying Chester’s infrastructure needs, the plan also analyses the benefits of implementing particular GSI projects within certain neighborhoods. It also analyzes common GSI techniques including rain gardens, green roofs, stormwater planters, and porous pavements, and includes their typical cost. The plan then lists 20 potential sites within the City for GSI projects, guidance for first steps, suggestions for effective community engagement, and potential sources of both public and private funding. The 350 acres of potential projects are concentrated primarily in major commercial and residential corridors that are particularly susceptible to CSO events and includes City Hall, a regional rail station, and a high school.  

To fund the projects, the city established the Chester Stormwater Authority (CSWA) with a $1 million grant from PENNVEST in 2017, bringing together the Chester Water Authority, the United States EPA, and private partner Corvias to form a community-based public-private partnership (CBP3) to plan, finance, build, and maintain up to $50 million in green stormwater infrastructure over 30 years. The CBP3 model is a somewhat novel approach to financing stormwater management that expands on the traditional public-private partnership (P3) model by incorporating consideration of community economic development needs.1 Coupled with its focus on green infrastructure as a primary means of stormwater management, this structure promotes not only improvements in water quality but in the community’s overall quality of life. Like a traditional P3 model, the CBP3 leverages public investment with private support at an estimated $10 of private equity per $1 public dollar (or higher), and the long-term partnership creates a shared risk burden and therefore greater accountability. A unique aspect of a community-based P3 (compared to a traditional P3) is the creation of a community-based advisory board to inform funding and investment decisions based upon community priorities.

In the case of Chester, Corvias was selected as a private partner because of its previous experience implementing green infrastructure stormwater management projects under a P3 with Prince George’s County. Through its partnership with Corvias, the City is looking to address stormwater concerns and provide significant and lasting financial benefits in the economically-disadvantaged community. By hiring local contractors for the infrastructure projects, training local workers to maintain projects, and creating new maintenance jobs for community members, the City intends to keep investments local, ensuring that projects are maintained long-term and reducing costs by 30-50 percent compared to traditional stormwater management approaches. The green infrastructure investments are also expected to increase property values through community beautification and attract investors to the City, potentially including a major grocery store.2 

There are several communities within the City of Chester that are economically disadvantaged, with nearly one-third of its citizens living beneath the poverty line, compared to 13 percent for the rest of Pennsylvania. The CSWA originally proposed a monthly stormwater fee of $15.60 per Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU) of 1,139 square feet, intended to generate revenue over the next 30 years to pay off the initial loans from PENNVEST. Following significant pushback from the community, especially from businesses and large property owners, this fee was cut nearly in half to $8.25 per ERU of impervious surface, collected on a bi-monthly basis. A group of businesses, individuals, and schools in Chester protested the fee with litigation, suing the CSWA in early 2018. In their complaint, the plaintiffs  argued in part that the CSWA was duplicating stormwater actions already performed by DELCORA; however, issues from the suit were resolved or settled by the start of 2019, and parties have been paying the stormwater fee since. 

The project has received funding primarily from PENNVEST, the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, which has provided roughly $15 million in low-interest loans to fund the initial projects. In May of 2019, the City unveiled the Veteran’s Memorial Park Green Stormwater Infrastructure Project. The project involved the installation of 3 new bioretention basins, along with trees and other vegetation, and is expected to capture runoff from roughly 1.56 acres of nearby impervious surfaces. The contractor hired for the project, Gessler Construction Co. Inc., owns the basin for its first two years of operation, after which maintenance responsibilities will be shifted to CSWA staff with education from the Gessler.3 Ongoing projects include the construction of rain gardens, reductions in impervious areas, vegetation planting, repairing and retrofitting existing retention basins, installation of porous pavers, and the restoration of 300 of the city’s 1,700 water inlets. 

 

Publication Date: June 2017

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