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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I support the existing stormwater management system.
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.
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.
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.