Owners of some area malls, big-box stores, and other businesses will have something new to worry about: what to do with the rainwater that streams off their roofs and parking lots.
Environmental officials welcomed an announcement last month that new rules covering storm runoff will be tested in Milford, Franklin, and Bellingham, but others worried the regulations will hurt business owners and discourage new development.
"It is all about timing," said Barry Feingold, president and chief executive of the Milford Area Chamber of Commerce. "I would say they couldn't have come up with a worse moment to announce this. No business can handle unbudgeted expenses right now."
Under the program drafted by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection, properties containing 2 or more acres of impervious surface would have to reduce by 65 percent the phosphorus carried into the Charles River by storm-water runoff.
The state's enforcement of the regulations will be phased in over 10 years, while EPA officials have not announced a time frame. A public comment period is pending.
Storm water carries remnants of chemicals containing phosphorus from lawns, car washes, parking lots, roads, roofs and organic-waste sources into drainage systems and into bodies of water like the Charles River. In sufficient concentration, phosphorus has been linked to algae blooms, which contain toxins harmful to humans and animals.
Denise Zambrowski, environmental affairs coordinator for Franklin's Department of Public Works, said the requirements would take some pressure off municipalities trying to protect wetlands and waterways.
"Commercial developers should pay for their own storm-water management," she said. "The large commercial facilities falling under state and federal purview makes it easier for us to focus resources and energy on our own drainage systems."
The cost of storm-water mitigation for new developments under the requirements has been estimated at $15,000 to $50,000 per acre. It could cost 50 to 70 percent more to retrofit older sites.
In Bellingham, officials at W/S Development Associates, which owns three malls in town covering more than 162 acres, said mitigation systems are already in place on their sites.
Robert Frazier, vice president of development at the Chestnut Hill-based company, said the three Bellingham malls - Stallbrook Marketplace, Charles River Center, and Crossroads Shopping Center - were built atop aquifers and outfitted from the start with a variety of storm-water management mechanisms, including catch basins and retention ponds.
Bellingham's conservation administrator, George Holmes, said W/S Development generally satisfied the town with its storm-water efforts, but the new requirements could mean additional measures for the owners.
And while such work would not represent a financial emergency for a company owning 70 shopping centers throughout New England, nor prompt a raise in rents, Frazier said, he acknowledged that smaller operations could be hit harder by the new rules.
"I can see where other folks have a concern," he said.
The announcement arrived as good news for Maria Rose, environmental engineer for Newton.
Storm-water runoff used to course directly from the Chestnut Hill Shopping Center, another W/S Development property, into Hammond Pond, Rose said. While W/S Development was cooperative in limiting the runoff, she said, in 2006 Newton and the state had to come up with $385,000 to install five storm-water retention cells and a sand barrier between the mall property and the pond.
Rose said property owners should pay for storm-water controls. "We already have plenty to do in terms of drainage improvements . . . without trying to deal with pollutants that come off of developments," she said.
In Franklin, DPW engineer Zambrowski said she is encouraged state and federal employees would enforce the regulations.
"People here have a lot of work to do, and to add one more regulatory burden on towns would have been very difficult," she said.
The EPA is expected to expand the requirements to 35 other Charles River watershed communities. The Commonwealth wants its requirements to apply statewide, although the minimum property size would be 5 acres outside of the test project.