Category Archives: environment

Hearing from the Candidates on the Stormwater CIP Budget

I am pleased to present this guest post by Sylvia S. Tognetti:

This question was sent to all 60 candidates running for various slots on the County Council. These include five incumbents who were given the option to state their views but not expected to do so given that their positions are known from their public statements and their Council vote. Of the non-incumbents, 10 responded and 45 have not. If more responses are received they will be added, up until election day.

Responses, in the order received:

Dalbin Osorio

I am not in favor of the current manner in which our stormwater program is run. It is more a reactive program than what is necessary, especially as we try to combat the extreme changes in our climate. I would vote to overhaul the entire program, beginning with the hiring of one independent contractor and a partnership with the local universities that would allow for interns to be utilized as a way to create a pipeline between students and facets of county government that they may be interested in. I would mandate that this contractor work with a board appointed by the County’s leading environmentalists, to ensure that the job is done appropriately and that the contractor is not skimping on quality work just to meet costs. We are not meeting the guidelines set forward, nor are we honoring deadlines set to meet certain benchmarks, and I believe this is unacceptable. I would push to increase the capital budget so we can better be prepared for incoming storms.

Seth Grimes

Montgomery County should maintain its long-standing approach to stormwater management, but get serious about progress, perhaps especially redoubling work with owners of properties with expanses of impervious surface and ensuring that county investment lives up to our commitments.

Hans Riemer

Building and maintaining stormwater infrastructure is one of our highest environmental priorities. I was one of 5 votes to support our traditional approach to building this infrastructure, and as Council President I am working to protect our program to the fullest extent.

Ben Shnider

Sound stormwater management policy is essential for protecting our environment and safeguarding our community’s health. We must not prematurely cancel projects and rush ahead with a new approach to stormwater management that lacks clarity. The simple majority of five Councilmembers who supported the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment (T&E) Committee’s recommendation (that retained the current stormwater management approach until all the applicable stakeholders are brought together to formulate recommendations that may enhance the program’s future performance) was more than prudent. The County Executive’s proposal, put forth as the Council was reviewing the entire budget across all County agencies, was unduly hasty. Essentially, the County Executive expected the Council to rubber-stamp his new approach to an important, inherently complicated program, at a time when neither Councilmembers, environmental stakeholders, let alone the public at-large were in a position to fully consider the implications. The T&E Committee’s recommendation, which a simple majority of Councilmembers wisely supported, allows sufficient time for careful review and collaboration among stakeholders between now and the early Fall, when the County Council may fully evaluate any recommendations that may result.

For these reasons, I believe that the County Executive’s line-item veto was unwarranted. His action, along with the refusal (to date) of my Councilmember to support the T&E Committee’s balanced approach, has only resulted in a dangerous stalemate. I hope that all Councilmembers will vote swiftly to override the County Executive’s veto and instead, unequivocally, embark upon a course that places safety, the environment and transparency first.

Meredith Wellington

Do you support the existing or a new approach to managing stormwater? My top environment priorities are reducing greenhouse gases and improving stormwater management. I support the Council’s recommendation to continue with the current program and conduct a thorough review to identify ways to improve and reduce costs for implementation. I believe the County’s current program can be greatly improved. After reviewing the CIP budget, I have concerns that Water Quality Protection Charge funds are being used in a manner for which they were not intended. I will also collect more information on the effectiveness of restoring streams before runoff from higher elevations is controlled. I would also like to review, with DEP and our State delegation, how stormwater management is measured to ‘count’ toward the MS4 permit requirements. Are we treating the most serious runoff challenges or the most accessible and cheapest? How are our streams and waterways improving after treatment? I support green street and similar “green” rather than “gray” stormwater management infrastructure, but want to be assured that systems are right sized for the square footage treated. There have been some challenges to green street installation that I would like to understand better.

In what direction do you think Montgomery County should take its stormwater program? I support continued emphasis on green stormwater management infrastructure. I think there needs to be more education and dialogue around installations so resident embrace green streets. I would like to find a way for shade trees to co-exist with and enhance engineered stormwater management. Our climate is changing, we are experiencing more heavy storms. Our stream valleys are fed by many underground springs and seeps. When building infill development, erecting additions, or other similar activities, we should adopt a “no harm” policy. For example, a new home that creates more impervious surface and installs stormwater management solutions should not negatively impact neighboring structures. Finally, I would like to see greater accountability from WSSC for both their construction work (I have seen workers hose sediment into the local creek) and consent decree compliance.

How can we best prepare for future stormwater needs? We can best prepare for future stormwater needs by reconsidering flood plain maps and identifying current flood patterns; accelerate work to add more green stormwater management to high impervious surface areas like our CBDs and parking lots; incentivize green roofs (double duty to lower carbon emission), rain gardens, tree planting, rain barrels, etc. Funding is also a challenge. The WQPC collections are significant; let’s use that money more effectively and for the purpose legislated. I think DEP has a good education and public awareness program, but it should grow. I would like to create partnerships with property owners and developers to build functioning ecosystems in dense areas as both a teaching tool and stormwater management device. I would also like to see a simpler, more aggressive Tree Montgomery program. I would like to review and strengthen legislation restricting building on steep slopes with highly erodible soils, and create greater incentives for preserving interior forests.

Tom Hucker

I have been involved in this issue for quite a while, including spending four years as the sponsor of Maryland’s HB987, the landmark 2012 statewide Maryland Stormwater Management – Watershed Protection and Restoration Program.

As the Council’s Lead Member for the Environment, I have consistently opposed the proposed new approach to manage stormwater through a very large (approximately $46 million), murky multi-year contract to a single unnamed general contractor.

Like all of us, I would like to see DEP achieving greater efficiencies in its stormwater contracting methods and exceed the goals in its new permit. But such a large, abrupt change that would realistically lock us in for several years before we even know our new state MS4 permit requirements is not the way to do it. In no other area of policy do we create a program before we know what the requirements of the program will be.

Instead, I have consistently advocated for a much smaller, pilot approach in the short term as well as restarting all of the good work that DEP has been doing. I want us to complete dozens of suspended and cancelled projects that we’ve already sunk significant taxpayer dollars into design and pre-construction planning in the short term.

Last but certainly not least, we need more oversight, transparency and accountability. It’s critical that the County establish a meaningful environmental advisory group with a variety of environmental experts like the Stormwater Partners represented on it. I’d like this group to begin convening this summer and hopefully exist for several years with the charge of advising DEP, DPS, the Council and the rest of our government on best practices and innovative ideas on stormwater management going forward. Recent events in Ellicott City show us we need to keep our stormwater efforts moving forward, not backward.

Will Jawando

I support the Council’s decision to pause the County Executive’s effort to move the storm water management program over to a private contractor. I support continuing the storm water management program as currently implemented, specifically work through the 44 delayed projects and review the 26 canceled projects. We should be committed to adhering to the county’s green infrastructure program, and meet at least 60 percent of its MS4 permit requirement using green infrastructure to manage storm water. If we have any changes to the current storm water management program, those changes should be made in full transparency, and in partnership and collaboration with stakeholders, including our environmental nonprofits, private citizens and others. Changes to streamline and improve management are acceptable, but only if they can be proven to continue to help the county meet its watershed restoration targets.

Tim Willard

We need to improve our stormwater management system. The County has been under a consent decree since January for committing numerous violations of its stormwater permit. A major part of the problem is that the County Government has raided the Water Quality Protection Charge for use in the operating budget rather than spending it on physical stormwater projects as was intended. This fund should be dedicated to its original purpose to improve our stormwater management. I oppose the effort to privatize stormwater management projects. While there are some benefits, privatization raises issues of quality control, loss of creativity in designing projects, and lack of communication with home owners near the projects. Organizations interested in stormwater management were kept in the dark while the privatization proposal was being developed which adds to the concern. Restoring funding that was meant to be used for stormwater management is a better solution than privatizing the process.

Evan Glass

I support the existing stormwater management system.

Michele Riley

I support the T&E Committee’s recommendation to move forward with existing projects now. We should not let this important work get hung up over what appears to be a difference of opinion regarding procurement process.

Gabe Albornoz

As a County, we must take actions to address our stormwater management issues so that streams remain clean and our watersheds are healthy. Healthy watersheds make for clean drinking water. We must first address the most degraded watersheds that are most at risk. I agree with our environmental community that 60% of our stormwater projects should be green infrastructure. It is vital that the work under the current State MS4 permit allows for a collaborative review of the program by the environmental community so that the most effective improvements can be made in the next permit.

Bill Conway

The Council exercised its proper authority to withhold approval of the budget for the proposal by Council Executive Leggett, which would have shifted the capital budget for stormwater projects to a single 5-year DBM contract. This proposal represented a substantial change in how the stormwater program is implemented that would be difficult to reverse and for which efficiency and cost-effectiveness are unknown. Also unknown are what the requirements will be under the next stormwater permit that this proposal was presumably intended to address. The Council decision to continue the suspended projects under the current contracting method does not mean the stormwater program cannot or should not be improved. The Council called for an open and transparent review of the program which would provide an opportunity for the County to consider different options and provide input to MDE on more cost-effective and innovative green infrastructure approaches that could be approved for crediting in the next permit cycle. This process would also allow for a more informed decision to be made when future permit obligations are known.

Share

Candidate Views on Leggett’s Line-Item Veto of the Stormwater CIP Budget

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post by Sylvia S. Tognetti:

In the aftermath of back to back storm events and flooding, and with 60 candidates in the primary race for various slots on the County Council, it seemed like it would be useful to find out their views on Leggett’s  line-item veto of the 5-4 majority decision by the Council pertaining to the stormwater CIP budget. ANS, on behalf also of Potomac Conservancy, Friends of Sligo Creek, Conservation Montgomery and the Montgomery Countryside Alliance, sent all of them a single question:

The County Executive issued a line-item veto of a majority Council decision on the stormwater CIP budget. In what direction do you think Montgomery County should take its stormwater program? How can we best prepare for future stormwater needs?

We received 17 responses of which three were from incumbents whose views have already been expressed through their public statements and Council vote – so their response was not expected. That leaves 41 who did not reply and are not incumbents and whose views are unknown.

A few candidates who have not responded let me know in person that, being the week before early voting, this question came at a bad time. I hear you! We would have much preferred to see this radical proposal by the Executive come before the Council with time to properly review it and consider alternatives in an open process, which is what we advocated for, and the Council called for in its majority decision. This is the situation faced now by existing Council members, and we thank those who took the time to understand and thoughtfully consider this complicated issue in this busy time. We can only wonder what those who did not respond would do if elected and presented with a radical proposal in the context of a budget decision, just before a primary election.

This is the first time a line-item veto has been used in 25 years. In its decision, the Council rejected a radical change in how stormwater projects are managed that was proposed by the County Executive. In the proposed new approach, stormwater capital projects would have been bundled and outsourced to a single contractor in a single, 5-year design-build-maintenance contract to treat stormwater runoff from 526 acres of impervious surfaces. This is intended to meet obligations under the next 5-year stormwater permit, which are not yet known, because we will not see a draft of the next permit until this Fall. Instead the Council accepted the recommendation of the Transportation & Environment Committee, to continue the 44 suspended projects – many well into the design phase and ready for construction, under the current approach, and called for an open and transparent public review of the program as a basis for improvements. Six votes are needed to override this veto and continue moving the county’s stormwater program forward.

This proposal came in addition to a $243 million cut in the 6-year stormwater CIP budget, which was accepted by the Council. This was based on an assumption that obligations under the next stormwater permit will be to retrofit only 5% of impervious surfaces that are not already treated to the Maximum Extent Practicable, instead of the 20% required under the current permit that will be completed this year. Although this percentage remains to be determined by MDE, which issues these permits, they have publicly stated it is likely to be at least 10%.

A key concern is whether the County will adhere to its new green infrastructure policy, in which it made a commitment to meet at least 60% of its MS4 permit requirement using green infrastructure to manage stormwater. The policy also committed to evaluating the costs and multiple environmental social and economic benefits of these projects, compared with single-purpose gray infrastructure as a basis for project selection.

Many of these projects would be necessary regardless of permit obligations and can reduce the costs of maintaining gray infrastructure. For example, when stormwater erodes urban streams, it erodes and batters sewer pipes, causing Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs). By enabling water to infiltrate into soil, green infrastructure slows down runoff, and helps to protect gray infrastructure, as well as reduce flooding and provide many other well-known benefits associated with green spaces. As discussed at a Water Forum held last December, stormwater runoff from up-county watersheds, that enter the Potomac upstream from drinking water intakes, also increases the cost of water treatment, which is why WSSC is planning to spend $83 million on a mid-river submerged channel intake at the Potomac Water Filtration Plant, and an additional $157 million to upgrade the plant to handle the overloading of sediment. In other words, costs not paid through the Water Quality Protection Charge would just reappear on our water bills, in the form of higher costs to treat drinking water and maintain pipes.

Candidate responses can be viewed on the ANS blog. Some are more detailed than others and present some good ideas, that could be considered if there were an open and transparent review of the program and alternative approaches. Only three favor the Executive’s single contractor approach, with some modifications.

More background information on the issue can be found in this Maryland Sierra Club post, and letter to Executive Leggett from leaders of the stormwater Partners Network, representing the Potomac Conservancy, the Audubon Naturalist Society, Conservation Montgomery, Friends of Sligo Creek, the Montgomery Countryside Alliance and the Maryland Sierra Club.

Share

Guest Blog on Stormwater Changes

By Timothy Male.

County Executive Leggett’s proposal to take a new approach to use contracts to deliver our clean water goals is an exciting opportunity for the county.  In 2015, Prince George’s County took a similar approach, signing a $100 million contract with the firm, Corvias.  Contrary to Seventh States’ coverage on this issue, this is not privatization – private companies already bid for and complete Montgomery County stormwater projects.  What Prince Georges does – and Montgomery County could do – is give those companies incentives to deliver projects faster and more creatively while creating local jobs, job training and benefits for schools.

In Prince George’s County, the partnership between the county and Corvias delivered more than 1,300 acres of impervious surface treatment in just 2 years and is on track to achieve the 2,500 acres – 500 more than established in the contract.  The partnership is important for its equity benefits as well.  The county set explicit goals for local workforce development, local subcontracting, and school-based projects that have educational benefits.  More than 80 percent of contracted funds are procured to locally owned, small, minority- or woman- owned businesses.  This form of social impact partnership ensures that environmental projects also deliver wins for disadvantaged communities.  What’s more, you can find all this data easily in Prince George’s County, through annual reports and an up-to-date online dashboard, because the company has a strong incentive (and requirement) to report back to the county on their progress.

Prince George’s County is not the only local jurisdiction building a record of success by taking an innovative approach to stormwater.  DC Water – Washington’s water utility – has won national accolades for creating one of the nation’s first “environmental impact bonds.”  In this case, DC Water raised private funding to pay for green infrastructure projects in northwest DC.  An important distinction in DC’s case is that the funding is a pay-for-success initiative, like many similar efforts launched by the Obama Administration.  If the projects work to store and filter stormwater, the foundation and company that loaned DC Water the money get paid back, but if the project doesn’t work then DC Water does not have to pay them back.  This is a great example of how government can help ensure that taxpayers (or ratepayers) don’t bear the risks from trying something new.  The ultimate goal of DC’s project is that, if it works, they will have an opportunity to use green infrastructure along with all the social and aesthetic values it produces in place of big underground pipes to move and treat stormwater.

Montgomery County has a chance to put together the best of DC and Prince George’s initiatives.  Build a program where the private sector takes the risk of failure and has incentives to exceed performance goals or deliver projects more quickly, like DC, but also add in social goals around workforce development, local training and environmental justice, like Prince George’s county.  In just a few years, instead of having a program that is over-budget and behind schedule, maybe we too would be getting national awards and would have stronger evidence that we are doing our part for Chesapeake Bay.

Timothy Male is the Executive Director of the Environmental Policy Innovation Center and a former Takoma Park City Councilmember.

Share

MoCo Green Democrats Announce Endorsements

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Montgomery County Green Democrats have announced their endorsements of the following candidates:

Governor – Rich Madaleno
Senator – Ben Cardin
Congress 3 – John Sarbanes
Congress 6 – Roger Manno
Congress 8 – Jamie Raskin
State Senate 16 – Susan Lee
State Senate 18 – Jeff Waldstreicher
State Senate 20 – Will Smith
State Delegate 14 – Pamela Queen
State Delegate 16 – Samir Paul, Marc Korman
State Delegate 17 – Kumar Barve
State Delegate 18 – Al Carr, Jared Solomon
State Delegate 19 – Vaughn Stewart, Brian Crider
State Delegate 20 – David Moon, Lorig Charkoudian
County Executive – Marc Elrich
County Council at-large – Bill Conway, Danielle Meitiv, Chris Wilhelm
County Council District 5 – Tom Hucker
Sheriff – Darren Popkin
MCDCC at-large male – Erwin Rose

The press release below lays out the club’s endorsement process.  Additionally, those who would like to read the candidates’ completed questionnaires can find them here.

Share

MoCo Cuts 25 Stormwater Projects

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has sent letters to residents announcing the cancellation of 25 stormwater projects currently in design.  We reprint one below.  We have redacted the name of the specific project to protect the recipient of the letter.

We have two questions.  First, why are these cancellations being announced considering that the county has agreed to a consent decree requiring that the county build a number of unspecified “supplemental environmental projects” because it did not meet the terms of its state-issued stormwater permit?  And second, if the county really can cut its project count and remain in compliance with its stormwater permit and its consent decree, will its water quality protection charge – which has been increased by more than 1100% in the last fifteen years – be reduced?  After all, the purpose of that charge as well as the bag tax is to finance these projects.

Elected officials and candidates for office, we respectfully request that you ask questions about this.

Share

Guest Blog: On Leggett’s Stormwater Changes

By Kit Gage, Advocacy Director, Friends of Sligo Creek.

Montgomery County, like the rest of Maryland and particularly the developed parts of the Chesapeake region, is full of parking lots and roofs and other impervious surfaces.  All these hard surfaces have made for a relatively terrible environment – pollutants, worse flooding and droughts have been the result.  The federal Clean Water Act thru the EPA, and the state of Maryland, require us to create projects that help our rivers, creeks, and the whole area better absorb stormwater.   Litigation has enforced doing this work.  So Montgomery County doesn’t have a choice about proceeding full speed ahead to do active stormwater collection and infiltration.

Now County Executive Leggett has announced that he wants to back off from these projects – 1) cancelling a bunch of them, 2) flat lining the Water Quality Protection Charge, and 3) changing the way contractors will do these projects.  It makes no sense.  The county already has to do special projects because it didn’t do enough stormwater work. Mr. Leggett argues his concerns are inefficiencies and too great expenditures in the stormwater mitigation effort.  Ok, let’s look at his solutions:

1.  Cancelling projects that are in process – already designed, locales evaluated, etc., is inefficient and costly.  The county can finish these projects – or almost all of these projects – by getting bids from approved contractors as it already does and so do them quickly, efficiently and relatively inexpensively.

2.  We understand there may be other agencies using the Water Quality Protection Charge for other than stormwater projects – if this is true then that should be fixed, rather than limiting access to stormwater funds by the lead agency, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and Parks that are doing these projects.   Their efforts over recent years have helped them learn how to do them better, more quickly, and more cheaply.

3.  There is no evidence that the Public Private Partnership (P3) is better.  There is some evidence that some of the nearby P3 projects don’t provide the more effective and environmentally sensitive solutions that should be required for good stormwater collection, infiltration, and wildlife support.  Starting a brand new process for contracting is almost certain to be disruptive and inefficient, particularly to projects in process.

Is there room for improvement?  Sure.  We could be planting lots more trees. We could do more projects like conservation landscapes in peoples’ yards, schools, and other institutions.  We could be changing the way we handle turf – reducing use of pesticides and fertilizers at the source, mowing high, aerating and soil testing to have grass act better to capture and soak in stormwater.  These things are cheaper and easier to do.  But don’t take responsibility out of the hands of DEP.

Let’s fix any problems, not create new ones.

Share

Lacefield Responds on County Stormwater Plans

By Patrick Lacefield.

Sorry, but Seventh State’s take on the County’s changes in stormwater management was off the mark in some ways – but interestingly enough it was right on the mark in making our case for the change.

First, stormwater management (not the most exciting or high profile issue) has long been a focus of the County Executive, going back to his Council days. He has long had a track record of moving the County toward arduous environmental goals that have made the County a leader in this arena.

Second, the reason he has proposed changes is because the current approach to completing the State-required environmental stormwater management has proven to be inefficient and costly. The design and construction of projects to treat the stormwater was taking several years longer than orignally planned.  The contracting approach was not focused on getting maximum performance.

As Seventh State correctly pointed out, costs to taxpayers have increased. The initial fee for this program was approximately $8 per household. It is now over $100 per household; and if we maintain the status quo, it would rise another $10 to $15 per year for the next 3 or 4 years. That is unacceptable.

Third, the County has already restored 5,000 acres of impervious surface under MS4 permits over the last 10 years. This is more acreage than any other jurisdiction in the state of Maryland has accomplished. It is also important to note that the MS4 permit program has never been done before. No jurisdiction in the State, nor even the State itself, has had experience with setting requirements or determining how the requirements would be met. We were the pioneers.

Also, there was no lawsuit or “series of lawsuits” over the County’s consent decree with the State. The County entered into a consent decree with the State because it fell short in meeting the impervious surface restoration piece of the permit. All other requirements of the 2010 permit have been met. The consent decree gives the County until December 31, 2020 to meet the terms. However, it is anticipated that pending State approval, the County will meet the impervious acre restoration requirements of the 2010 permit by the end of this year – well ahead of time.

Again, there is no “privatization” here. All of the stormwater construction work is already being done by private contractors. The County does not build nor maintain stormwater management facilities. We oversee, authorize, and ensure compliance with environmental regulations; and that does not change.

Under our new contracting method, the permittee will always be the County, so the responsibility to ensure the permit requirements will remain with the County. This allows companies that do this work as their primary and only function to assume the risk for costs and completion. It’s called performance-based contracting. DEP can then be left to do what it does best: regulate, monitor and inspect. We are simply removing the layers of contracts that bog down and complicate the work.

County staff will continue their work to develop other MS4 permit requirements including  watershed implementation plans and pollution prevention plans; identifying the target areas for the most effective Total Maximum Daily Load reduction location; increasing education and outreach as well as public involvement and participation; maintaining an illicit discharge detection and elimination program; continuing inspections and maintenance of an ever-increasing stormwater management facilities program. That will not change.

Patrick Lacefield is Montgomery County’s Director of Public Information.

Pagnucco’s Response

Patrick Lacefield says we are “off the mark,” but two of his claims are refuted by the draft consent decree itself.

First, he says that there was no lawsuit or “series of lawsuits.”  In fact, the consent decree describes prior litigation on page 4, which we reprint below.

Second, he says, “The County entered into a consent decree with the State because it fell short in meeting the impervious surface restoration piece of the permit. All other requirements of the 2010 permit have been met.”  But the consent decree lists a host of additional reporting violations on pages 5, 6 and 7 which we reprint below.

Now to the broader point.  Perhaps the Executive Branch is right that there is a more cost efficient way to meet its stormwater obligations.  In this post, Lacefield calls it “performance-based contracting” whereas the County Executive’s memo calls it a “public-private partnership contracting vehicle” (P3).  The Executive correctly points out that Prince George’s County has already entered into a P3, although it might be too new to fully judge its performance.  Whatever the exact nature of the Executive’s proposal, maybe it’s worth talking about, especially since – as Lacefield says – the water quality protection charge is forecast to rise by 17% between FY20 and FY23.  Let the public discussion begin.

Share

Leggett Plans to Privatize Stormwater Management

By Adam Pagnucco.

In a memo sent to the County Council last week, County Executive Ike Leggett said he intends to pursue a public-private partnership (P3) to administer the county’s stormwater management program.  That decision is particularly interesting given the facts that the State of Maryland has alleged that the county committed numerous violations of its stormwater permit and the county agreed to a consent decree in January.

The potential P3 and the consent decree relate to the county’s responsibilities under its Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit, which is a state and federal mandate on large jurisdictions to undertake stormwater projects designed to improve the Chesapeake Bay.  Under the latest permit issued by the state for the period of 2010 through 2015, the county is responsible for assessing sources of pollutants in runoff, identifying best management practices in stormwater control, establishing and inspecting management systems to control runoff and restoring twenty percent of its impervious surface area that has not already been managed.  The principal source of the county’s funding for stormwater activities is its Water Quality Protection Charge, established in 2002, which is levied on property tax bills.  The charge, which is not subject to the county’s charter limit on property taxes, has increased by more than 1100% over the last fifteen years.

While the charge is intended to be used for stormwater projects, it is in fact used for a lot more than that.  In FY18 (estimated), more money from the Water Quality Protection Fund went to the operating budget ($26.8 million) and a transfer to the rest of the general fund ($1.6 million) than to the capital budget ($5.4 million) and debt service on capital projects ($6.1 million).  And so most of the proceeds from the charge do not actually go directly into physical stormwater capital projects.

During the 2010-2015 permit period, a series of lawsuits were brought against the MS4 permits issued to several counties, including Montgomery.  The end result in Montgomery’s case was a consent decree agreed to by the county and the state in January.  (The state’s website does not list any other county as having a consent decree.)  According to the consent decree, the Maryland Department of the Environment alleged numerous violations of the MS4 permit by the county, including running up deficits of unrestored impervious land of 2,004 acres in FY15 and 1,860.5 acres in FY16 as well as many reporting failures.  The consent decree requires the county to build a number of supplemental environmental projects, which are not listed in the decree itself, by 12/31/20.

Here is a question: with the water quality protection charge almost tripling between 2010 and 2015, why was the county deficient in restoring thousands of acres as it was supposed to do under its stormwater permit?

Also of note is that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which manages the county’s stormwater activities, is currently led by an Acting Director.  The previous Director served for less than two years and left for “professional and personal reasons.”

Perhaps in connection with all of the above, County Executive Ike Leggett told the County Council in a memo last week the following: “The department [of Environmental Protection] also intends to pursue a public-private partnership contracting vehicle for the anticipated new Permit – a mechanism that has provided significant cost efficiencies in other jurisdictions such as Prince George’s County.”  The memo is 99 pages long, but we reprint pages one and two, which contain the reference to the P3, below.

This raises a number of questions.  What will the scope of the P3 be?  Will the P3 be subject to open bidding or will it be a sole-source contract?  How will the concessionaire be compensated?  How will the county oversee the concessionaire’s operations?  To the extent that they are affected by the P3, what recourse will property owners have in dealing with the concessionaire’s decisions?  (This is not an academic question given the activities of the Purple Line’s P3 concessionaire.)  Since the county faces legal liability to the state in connection with the consent decree, is it wise to vest compliance in a private entity?  Would that entity agree to indemnify the county if it fails to achieve the mandates in the consent decree?  As for the “significant cost efficiencies” claimed in Prince George’s County, their P3 is only three years old and was described as the first of its kind when it was signed.  Does that P3 have enough of a track record to make it a model for MoCo?

Another question.  Environmental regulation is a core function of government.  Selling alcohol is not.  How on Earth does it make sense that a county would socialize alcohol sales and privatize environmental protection?

Finally, here is the biggest question of all: why now?  The current County Executive has less than nine months left in his time in office.  A P3 is a major structural change to the county’s operations and the one in Prince George’s has a thirty-year duration.  Is this an issue for the next Executive and council to decide?  Or should they and their successors be bound by an administration with only a short time left in office?

It’s time for a public discussion of the county’s stormwater performance issues and the appropriateness of a P3.  We ask the County Council to raise it during the discussions of Leggett’s last budget in the coming weeks.

Share

Sierra Club Issues Second Round of Endorsements

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Maryland Sierra Club has issued a second round of state-level endorsements.  We have previously listed their first round of endorsements and their county-level endorsements in MoCo.  The new MoCo candidates who have been endorsed are:

District 14: Senator Craig Zucker, Delegate Pam Queen.  Delegates Anne Kaiser and Eric Luedtke were endorsed in the first round.

District 15: Delegate candidate Lily Qi.  Senator Brian Feldman and Delegates Kathleen Dumais and David Fraser-Hidalgo were endorsed in the first round.

District 16: Delegate candidate Sara Love.  Senator Susan Lee and Delegates Ariana Kelly and Marc Korman were endorsed in the first round.

District 17: Delegate candidate Julie Palakovich Carr.  Senator Cheryl Kagan and Delegates Kumar Barve and Jim Gilchrist were endorsed in the first round.

District 18: Senate candidate Jeff Waldstreicher, Delegate candidates Emily Shetty and Jared Solomon.  Delegate Al Carr was endorsed in the first round.

District 19: Senate candidate Ben Kramer, Delegate candidate Vaughn Stewart.  Delegates Bonnie Cullison and Marice Morales were endorsed in the first round.

District 20: Senator Will Smith, Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins.  Delegate David Moon was endorsed in the first round.

District 39: Senator Nancy King, Delegate candidate Lesley Lopez.  Delegates Kirill Reznik and Shane Robinson were endorsed in the first round.

Every MoCo incumbent running for reelection was endorsed.  Two Delegates running for Senate, Jeff Waldstreicher and Ben Kramer, were also endorsed.  The full statewide list can be seen here.

The big winners here are the non-incumbent House candidates looking to distance themselves from competitors, including Qi (D-15), Love (D-16), Palakovich Carr (D-17), Shetty and Solomon (D-18), Stewart (D-19) and Lopez (D-39).  Lopez is a really big winner because she gets to talk about something other than the District 39 slate controversy and she interrupts a growing slew of labor endorsements for her most viable rival, MCGEO employee Gabe Acevero.  Interestingly, the Sierra Club did not choose between the leading two District 20 open House seat contenders, Lorig Charkoudian and Darian Unger.

We are tracking prominent institutional endorsements and will post a summary list soon.

Share

Enviro Early Endorsements for General Assembly

By Adam Pagnucco.

Yesterday, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters (LCV) released its early endorsements for General Assembly.  We present them along with the early endorsements recently issued by the Maryland Sierra Club below.

First, let’s look at early endorsements for the Senate.

All early endorsees for Senate are Democratic incumbents with two exceptions: LCV-backed Delegates Ben Kramer (D-19) and Pam Beidle (D-32), who should have little problem winning their party nominations for open seats.  In general, the Sierra Club has endorsed fewer candidates so far.  Both organizations took passes on several contested Senate races.  They notably declined to support Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee Chair Joan Carter Conway (D-43), who is being challenged by Delegate Mary Washington.  However, both of them did support Senator Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-44), who is being challenged by SEIU leader Aletheia McCaskill.

Now let’s look at the House.

Again, all the early endorsees are Democratic incumbents and the Sierra Club supported fewer of them.  Many of the incumbents who have not yet been endorsed are appointees who have not served for three full sessions, like Montgomery County Delegates Pam Queen (D-14) and Jheanelle Wilkins (D-20) and Baltimore City Delegate Robbyn Lewis (D-46).

Let’s remember that both of these organizations will be issuing more endorsements in the future.  Several incumbents who don’t appear on these lists now could be endorsed in the next few months.  Open seat candidates will also earn support.  And the endorsement decisions in the contested Senate races, especially in the City of Baltimore, will be very interesting.  We will be watching!

Share