Montgomery Considers Major Changes of County Stormwater Program

Bethesda Beat article (2018-04-11) reported that Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett has proposed scaling back the County’s stormwater treatment program in response to concerns about the program’s fiscal sustainability and the inclusion of an 800 additional treated acres that the County was previously not receiving credit for. The article stated that Leggett has recommended reducing the Department of Environmental Protection’s capital budget by $240 million and is based on plans to cancel $113 million in stormwater projects, not filling seven vacant positions, and from project oversight efficiencies generated by reorganizing the Department. Leggett is also proposing no increase in the County’s stormwater remediation fee (also known as the “rain tax”).

The proposed cutbacks come while the County remains under a consent decree for failure to attain its stormwater reduction goals under its Phase I Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit. The permit is required by the federal government but the terms and enforcement is set by the State. The article stated that the County has until 2020 to treat a total of 3,800 acres of impervious surface or face a $300,000 fine.

According to the article, Leggett’s proposal has produced concern in the environmental community. From the article:

Kit Gage, advocacy director for the environmental group Friends of Sligo Creek, wrote in a guest post on the local blog Seventh State, that Leggett’s proposal “makes no sense.”

“The county already has to do special projects because it didn’t do enough stormwater work,” Gage wrote, referring to the county’s failure to meet a state-mandated requirement to treat runoff from impervious surfaces such as the water that flows off roofs and across parking lots and roads. …

“This department needs to have greater efficiencies and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Leggett said in an interview last week. “We’ve slowed down capital spending related to schools, recreation, fire stations and everything else. But the environmental community wanted us to continue to increase the fee and they’re the only ones that don’t want to have a slow down. If the council wants to increase the fee—they can do so, but I’m not going to do that.”

The article stated that the County Council is scheduled to decide on Leggett’s proposed capital budget reductions in mid-May. Some Council Members also had questions concerning departmental operations and the recent accounting changes that allowed 800 additional acres to be counted towards the County’s MS4 goal:

“It does sound like a significant error was made,” Berliner said. “Typically what we expect of any administration or ourselves when a significant error is made is an after-the-fact review so we get a report exactly why was this mistake made.”

Council member George Leventhal said in an interview last week that he believes Leggett and the county budget department were correct in wondering why the county had accomplished so little toward meeting the permit requirements despite increasing the stormwater fees year after year.

The article also discussed how the Department is revamping its contract process for stormwater proecess. Rather than contract on a project-by-project basis, the new system will hold contractors responsible for certain acreage targets but allow them to decide which projects they will undertake.