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.