By Kate Fritz and Michael Hollins
February 21, 2015
There is something extraordinary happening across Central Maryland, where local governments are working hard to reduce pollution and clean up their rivers, creeks and streams. The "rain tax" is working.
While opponents deride these stormwater management fee programs, local governments are putting projects in the ground that protect communities from flooding, keep pollution out of our waterways and repair out-of-date or failing drainage and sewer infrastructure.
Baltimore and Maryland's nine largest counties have federal Clean Water Act permits that require them to reduce pollution from stormwater. This is because water running off roofs, driveways, lawns and parking lots contains pollutants like motor oil, grease, lawn chemicals and pet waste. This polluted runoff enters small ditches and local waterways, making them and their parent rivers unsafe for swimming, threatening Maryland seafood and causing localized flooding and property damage.
Prince George's County has entered into a first-of-its-kind partnership with a private-sector company to design, install and maintain the county's upgraded stormwater management system. Besides bringing new jobs to Maryland, the company has also committed to using local small and minority-owned businesses for at least 35 percent of the total project.Of course, Maryland is not taxing the rain, but local governments are assessing fees on pavement and other hard surfaces. These fees enable local governments to finance and construct the repairs and restoration projects needed to stop this pollution before it causes harm to our waterways. This important work is being done by local design and construction firms, working with communities, places of worship and other partners to get projects in the ground in ways, and at a speed, that government could not achieve alone.
In Anne Arundel County, the utility fee is spawning project implementation by watershed groups like the South River Federation in partnership with private industry to design, construct and plant restoration projects at different scales. In 2015, the federation will be submitting proposals for upward of $400,000 in projects to be implemented in our communities. The sustained and predictable nature of this fee means the South River Federation and other nonprofits can do more work and engage the private sector in a more predictable way to make these local improvements with local dollars.
The fact is that community-scale watershed restoration is a new, frontier-setting field that is bringing new jobs to Maryland companies and new employees (and residents) to Maryland from other states. Engineers, horticulturalists, landscape architects and stream biologists are all working in aggressive teams to identify and install measures that reduce our impact on our local waterways.
This should be welcome news for an administration that lists jobs as a top priority and announced that "Maryland is open for business." It certainly doesn't jibe with political rhetoric to repeal the polluted runoff legislation. These are real projects and real jobs. Our economy needs more work, not more layoffs.
In the horticultural sector alone, the interest in growing and selling native plants for restoration projects has become a booming business in Maryland. The business is growing, in no small part from the projects funded by the polluted runoff fee. If Maryland is truly "open for business," then we must not close down this growing sector of our economy.
The opening days of Maryland's General Assembly session brought an optimistic tone of bipartisanship and cooperation. All Marylanders enjoy the ecological, economic and recreation benefits that the Chesapeake Bay and our local waters provide, and we should all have a role in protecting this valuable resource. Let's drop the rain tax rhetoric and let these programs do what they do best: Spur jobs that reduce pollution.
Kate Fritz is the executive director of the South River Federation. Michael Hollins is the owner of the Envirens Inc. consulting firm and Sylva Native Nursery, both based in Baltimore County.
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