Howard County Council, Main Street Businesses Wrestle With Proposed Ellicott City Flood Plan

Baltimore Sun article (2018-09-28) explored the dilemmas posed to Ellicott City businesses and the Howard County government as the County Council prepares to vote on funding for a five-year flood control plan. The plan was developed after two historic floods that caused millions of dollars in property damage to the City’s Main Street and several deaths. From the article:

On Monday, the Howard County Council is scheduled to vote on a bill that would allocate nearly $17 million toward a five-year flood control plan. The bills represent part of a larger $50 million package — advocated by County Executive Allan Kittleman and Ellicott City’s representative on the council, Jon Weinstein — that would implement a massive flood mitigation effort.

The package includes culvert projects, expansion of a channel for the Tiber River, creation of new open space along the Patuxent and the controversial proposal to purchase and raze 19 buildings, including 10 in the historic district. Officials say removing buildings would create an open space to deepen and expand the channel to slow floodwaters.

The article presented the viewpoints of several Main Street business owners on the County’s proposed flood control plans as well as the their personal decisions about whether to reopen or close up shop. Concerns included whether the flood control plan is sufficient to mitigate potentially catastrophic flooding and whether a current development moratorium for surrounding areas will be maintained in the future.

The article also discussed reactions to the most controversial part of the flood control plan – the demolition of 19 buildings. As previously reported on Conduit Street, historic preservation group Preservation Maryland expressed strong opposition to the demolition, citing the results of a Mason-Dixon poll that found 74 percent of the residents would prefer a flood control plan that did not raze the buildings. Kittleman and Weinstein responded that the decision to demolish the buildings was based on engineering studies, running numerous “what if” scenarios, and public safety considerations.

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Ellicott City flooding

 

 

LGAC: Better Local Technical Assistance Needed to Meet Bay TMDL Challenge

The Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC) is pushing for better technical assistance to local governments as they work to meet their water pollution reduction goals under the third and final phase of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). Specifically, LGAC is considering the creation of a state-specific circuit rider program that can provide assistance to low capacity counties and municipalities.

LGAC held a forum in Winchester, Virginia, on September 26 to discuss and develop a proposal for the creation of the circuit rider program as well as an interstate technical assistance provider network. Key concerns that were discussed during the forum included: (1) ensuring the program was tailored to the unique needs of local governments in different states; (2) not duplicating existing efforts; (3) maintaining local government autonomy; (4) ensuring the program produces meaningful results; and (5) creating a viable and sustainable fiscal structure for the program. MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp attended the forum and the subsequent LGAC meeting on September 27.

At its meeting, LGAC discussed the results of the forum and received updates on the Midpoint Assessment of the Bay TMDL, the Conowingo Dam, and the Bay Barometer local government outreach program. Representatives from each attending state also meet amongst themselves to discuss local issues.

LGAC is an advisory body within the Chesapeake Bay Program that provides recommendations regarding the TMDL needs and challenges of local governments to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council. The Council, which is comprised of the executives of all of the Bay watershed states, coordinates and directs the Bay restoration efforts. Current Maryland county representation on LGAC is provided by Kent County Commissioner Ronald Fithian. Knapp has been serving as an informal alternate member until a second Maryland county vacancy can be filled.

Bay Journal article (2018-09-26) reported on an earlier message delivered by LGAC Chair and former Takoma Park Mayor Bruce Williams to the Chesapeake Executive Council in August. From the article:

“Local governments can be resourceful, innovative and effective partners in watershed protection and restoration,” said Bruce Williams, chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program Local Government Advisory Committee and the former mayor of Takoma Park, MD. “However, we need the tools and resources required for success.”

But in their written report to the council, local officials seemed to question whether their concerns, much of which involve adequate funding as well as technical and staff support, will be listened to and addressed during the plan-writing process.

“The need for more resources remains a key barrier to local governments participating more fully in protecting and restoring water resources in our communities,” they wrote. “State and federal governments must increase funds allocated for local implementation.”

The article noted that LGAC offered several recommendations to the Council, including: (1) better engagement with local governments during the development of the Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans; and (2) providing tools and resources for local governments to succeed.

LGAC’s next quarterly meeting is scheduled to take place November 29-30 in Washington, DC.

Useful Links

LGAC Webpage

Sustainable Growth Commission Discusses A Better Maryland, Transportation, and Parks Plans

The Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission heard on updates on the new State Development Plan, A Better Maryland; the 2040 Maryland Transportation Plan; and the Maryland Land Preservation and Recreation Plan at its September 24, 2018, meeting in Leonardtown.

A Better Maryland

Maryland Secretary of Planning Robert McCord, Special Secretary of Smart Growth Wendi Peters and other Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) representatives provided an update on the new State Development Plan, A Better Maryland. The plan, which is expected to be finalized in 2019, is currently being developed by MDP after several rounds of statewide listening tours.

The plan will broadly focus on environment and economic development issues – the two top areas of concerns raised by listening tour participants. The plan will be developed around four issue groupings: (1) environmental issues; (2) economic development issues; (3) community development issues; and (4) collaboration/coordination issues. MDP has currently identified 14 issues that will fall under these four issue groupings.

Environmental Issues

  • Sustaining the environment into the future
  • Preserving land
  • Adapting and becoming resilient to climate change

Economic Development Issues

  • Tackling the economic development needs of the next century
  • Improving economic growth and development in existing communities
  • Meeting renewable energy goals
  • Addressing Maryland’s transportation, infrastructure, and technology challenges and opportunities

Community Development Issues

  • Creating workforce/affordable housing
  • Building capacity in communities
  • Protecting historic and cultural resources
  • Creating quality places

Collaboration//Coordination Issues

  • Coordinating State agencies in planning process
  • Respecting regional distinctions
  • Improving the delivery of programs and services to local jurisdictions

The plan will provide further details on addressing each of these issues as a full draft of the plan is developed.

2040 Maryland Transportation Plan

Charles Glass from the Maryland Department of Transportation provided an update on the state’s draft 2040 transportation plan, which will chart Maryland’s long-range transportation funding and project programming. The plan is updated every 5 years. The 2040 plan contains seven overall goals:

  1. Provide better transportation choices and connections
  2. Ensure a safe, secure, and resilient transportation system
  3. Maintain a high standard and modernize Maryland’s multimodal transportation system
  4. Improve the quality and efficiency of the transportation system to enhance the customer experience
  5. Promote fiscal responsibility
  6. Facilitate economic opportunity and reduce congestion in Maryland through strategic system expansion
  7. Ensure environmental protection and sensitivity

Each goal includes a set of objectives and strategies for achieving those objectives. The 2040 plan will include significant components to begin addressing: (1) electric vehicles; (2) autonomous and connected vehicles; (3) climate impacts; and (4) the shared mobility economy.

Public comments on the draft 2040 plan are due by November 14.

Maryland Land Preservation and Recreation Plan

Sandi Olek from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources provided a short update on the state’s recreation plan. The recreation plan, which includes information and plans created by local governments, is needed to access federal funding for parks and land preservation. The theme of the pending plan will be connectivity, including ensuring equitable access to green space.

Leonardtown Update

Leonardtown Mayor Dan Burris and Town Administrator Lachelle McKay provided an overview of the town’s revitalization and growth plans. Both noted their positive working relationship with St. Mary’s County Board of County Commissioners. Commissioners James Guy, Tom Jarboe, and Michael Hewitt also attended the meeting.

MACo representatives on the Commission include Garrett County Planning and Land Management Director Deborah Carpenter and MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp. The Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for November 26, 2018, in Gaithersburg.

Useful Links

Sustainable Growth Commission Webpage

Learn to Grow Your Community Forest at Sustainable Maryland Workshops

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sustainable Maryland is offering a leadership training workshop on “Growing the Community Forest” to municipal and county elected officials and staff. The workshop is offered on three different dates in Central Maryland, Western Maryland, and the Eastern Shore.

From an email notice (2018-09-24) of the event:

The Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland will host Sustainable Maryland’s annual Leadership Training workshops in November. This training series fosters leadership skills to engage diverse stakeholders, reduce contention, and garner support for sustainability initiatives.

This year’s workshop topic, GROWING THE COMMUNITY FOREST, will incorporate examples, stories and tools that will help communities to strengthen and expand local tree canopy. Trees are unique amongst urban infrastructure, in that over time, they appreciate in both value and capacity. Learn about the benefits of a healthy community forest; funding sources and technical assistance available for maintaining and growing your town’s tree canopy; and examples of how to engage residents to support this vital green infrastructure in their neighborhoods.

The cost for county officials and staff is $35, which includes breakfast, lunch, program materials, and parking. The event is co-sponsored by MACo and the Maryland Municipal League.

The workshop dates and locations include:

  • Thursday, November 8, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm at Hyattsville City Hall, Hyattsville
  • Thursday, November 13, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm at Cambridge Police Department, Cambridge
  • Wednesday, November 14, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm at University System of Maryland, Hagerstown

A full agenda will be available soon. If you have any questions please contact Mike Hunninghake at mikeh75@umd.edu or 301-405-7956.

Useful Links

Register for November 8 Hyattsville Workshop

Register for November 13 Cambridge Workshop

Register for November 14 Hagerstown Workshop

Sustainable Maryland Website

How Did Your Legislator Score on Environmental Issues in 2018?

 

 

 

The Maryland League of Conservation Voters recently released its 2018 Environmental Scorecard. The scorecard ranks the 2018 environmental voting record and lifetime voting record of all 188 Maryland legislators.

From a League press release (2018-09-14):

The 2018 Session was a complicated year for the environment in the Maryland General Assembly. On the one hand, legislators passed several bills of environmental importance and in multiple cases the environment was a bipartisan concern. …

While those bills were important, leaders in the General Assembly failed to vote on many top environmental priorities. This inaction short changes Marylanders from truly understanding where our elected officials stand on these particular top environmental issues and further disenfranchises voters in this key election year.

In more frustrating news, we saw long-time environmental champions fail to support environmental priorities, or refuse to bring them up for a vote. In particular, we are especially concerned at the shelving of top environmental legislation, such as the Styrofoam ban.

The scorecard is based on specified pieces of environmental legislation that received a committee vote, a floor vote, or were “drawered” in committee (not receiving any vote). Examples of legislation counted by the 2018 scorecard included: (1) changes to the Bay Restoration Fund; (2) banning Styrofoam; (3) amending the Forest Conservation Act; (4) offshore wind; and (5) funding for the DC-Metro.

In the Senate, numerous senators were awarded a 100% rating for the 2018 Session. The lowest scoring senator was Johnny Ray Salling (17%). Senators with a 100% lifetime rating include William Smith and Roger Manno. The Senator with the lowest lifetime rating is Gail Bates (16%).

In the House of Delegates, numerous delegates scored at the extremes for the 2018 Session, with many receiving a 100% rating and others receiving a 0% rating. Thirty-two delegates hold a 100% lifetime rating. The delegates with the lowest lifetime scores are Warren Miller and Mark Fisher at 8%.

Useful Links

2018 Scorecard Interactive Map

Let the Sunshine In – Register Now for MACo Solar Symposium

MACo, in partnership with the Sierra Club of Maryland and Solar United Neighbors, is offering a free one-day symposium to county officials (elected and non-elected) on the benefits and challenges of siting community and utility-scale solar generation facilities within your county.

The symposium, titled Let the Sunshine In: Solar Siting in Maryland, will provide an overview of solar’s role in Maryland, including existing laws; offer perspectives from different stakeholders, such as agriculture, community/health, and the environmental community; discuss local zoning and taxation best practices; and showcase several solar “success stories.” The symposium will be concluded with an open facilitated discussion where attendees can raise solar-related issues and questions important to their local jurisdiction.

 

Let the Sunshine In: Solar Siting in Maryland

  • Date: Thursday, October 11, 2018
  • Time: 10:00 am – 3:45 pm (morning coffee and lunch provided)
  • Location: North Laurel Community Center, 9411 Whiskey Bottom Road, Laurel, MD 20723
  • Eligible Attendees: County elected and non-elected officials
  • Cost: Free but registration is required by October 3

Session Objectives

  • Provide key information on factors affecting solar energy development in Maryland relevant to the needs and policy decisions of county officials
  • Present examples of Best Practices in solar development
  • Offer opportunity for dialogue among county officials and experts engaged in specific technical and policy areas relevant to solar development

Space is limited and registrations are accepted on a first come, first serve basis. A full agenda will be released shortly. For further questions about the symposium, please contact Les Knapp at lknapp@mdcounites.org or 410.269.0043.

Useful Links

Register for Let the Sunshine In: Solar Siting in Maryland 

Sierra Club of Maryland Website

Solar United Neighbors Website

 

 

 

 

Hagerstown Highlights High Costs of New Phase II MS4 Permits

Herald-Mail Media article (2018-09-15) examined the significant fiscal costs facing those counties and municipalities subject to the newest version of the Phase II Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit. The new Phase II permits, set to take effect October 31, require a local jurisdiction to upgrade the stormwater treatment capabilities for 20 percent of their existing impervious surface. The article specifically focused on how this new requirement would affect Hagerstown.

The article noted that Hagerstown has been subject to a Phase II MS4 permit since 2002 and has roughly 2,200 acres of untreated impervious surface, meaning that the city must treat 400 to 450 acres under the new 20 percent requirement. An advisory group has been looking at how the city can meet the 20 percent requirement since this March. From the article:

“That’s mainly all the buildings, streets, roadways, rooftops in what I’ll call the downtown area,” [Hagerstown Assistant City Engineer Jim]Bender said in an interview Thursday. “It’s been here the longest. It’s been here for 150, 200 years or more. … Nobody ever thought of providing water quality treatment.”

Speaking before the Hagerstown City Council this past week, Bender estimated it could cost about $25 million to $30 million to satisfy the permit, which runs through 2023.

The article noted that the advisory group and the city were considering a variety of methods to meet the impervious surface restoration requirement but faced significant challenges. Retrofits to existing stormwater facilities are one of the most cost-effective treatment methods but many of these facilities are privately owned, requiring the city to undertake complicated negotiations with property owners. Another preferred method is forest planting, but the city’s limited free space and fiscal resources makes such projects very challenging.

Bender also noted in the article that the city is still considering how to pay for the required stormwater projects and are considering the imposition of a stormwater remediation fee (also known as a “rain tax.” However, Bender cautioned that it was “premature” to say the advisory group would include a fee recommendation when its work concludes in December.

The new Phase II MS4 permits will apply to the following counties: Calvert, Cecil, Queen Anne’s, St. Mary’s, Washington, and Wicomico. Ten other Maryland counties are subject to a broader Phase I permit that is specifically tailored for each jurisdiction.

Useful Links

Anne Arundel Aspires for Accessible Accountability

An Anne Arundel County news release (2018-09-17) announced that County Executive Steve Schuh is proposing a series of ethics reforms for the County. The reforms would address ethics training, gift restrictions, penalties for lobbying violations, and the law’s applicability to County board and commission members.

From the news release:

Our citizens deserve a fair, honest, and transparent government. These reforms will ensure that we instill the highest ethical standards across Anne Arundel County.

– Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh

The ethics reform proposal includes provisions:

  • Requiring mandatory ethics training for all County employees and elected officials, every five years.
  • Implementing stricter gift restriction on meals and beverages.
  • Increasing the penalties on lobbyists who violate the Ethics Code

I applaud the Administration’s focus on public ethics, and the proposed changes will ensure Anne Arundel County’s Public Ethics Law remains one of the most comprehensive in the state.

– Anne Arundel County Ethics Commission Executive Director Michael Botsaris

The news release also stated that the reforms would be implemented by the Commission.

Capital Gazette editorial (2018-09-19) expressed support for the ethics proposal but also urged the reforms include a ban on “anyone accepting a county-funded paycheck from acting as a lobbyist before county or state government agencies or legislative bodies” (unless specifically lobbying on behalf of their county agency).

Speaker Busch Recovering From Heart Bypass Surgery

[photo, Michael E. Busch, House Speaker]
Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch (Source: Maryland Manual Online)
A Washington Post article (2018-09-20) reported that Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch underwent an unplanned heart bypass surgery on September 19, 2018, and is currently in recovery. The article stated that Busch had the surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center after developing difficulty in breathing during a routine testing procedure. From the article:

He is awake, alert and is expected to make a full recovery. He will return to work and the campaign trail in the next few weeks.

– Busch Chief of Staff Alexandra Hughes

The article also mentioned that Busch also underwent a liver transplant in June of 2017.

Maryland Plans to Sue Trump Administration After EPA Denies Air Emissions Request

Baltimore Sun article (2018-09-17) reported that Maryland will challenge a recent decision of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denying Maryland’s request for limitations on coal plant emissions from upwind states. EPA’s decision marks a setback in the Maryland Department of the Environment’s efforts to curb significant amounts of ozone pollution that migrates from other states.

An estimated 70 percent of Maryland’s ozone pollution originates in other states. In response, Maryland petitioned EPA under the federal Clean Air Act to require coal power plants in 5 states to run already installed ozone emission controls between the months of May and September. Affected states include Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Maryland submitted its petition in November of 2016 and EPA initially proposed denying the petition in May of 2018. EPA finalized its denial on September 14.

The article noted that Maryland will challenge EPA’s denial in federal appeals court. From the article:

Now, “litigation is the next step,” said Ben Grumbles, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment. …

The “EPA’s decision is wrong,” [Maryland Attorney General Brian] Frosh said. “If it is allowed to stand, the air Marylanders breathe will be dirtier, especially on the hottest days of the summer — through no fault of ours.”

The article also stated that most of Maryland’s congressional delegation support the State’s legal appeal.

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage