Anne Arundel County stands on the cusp of taking the most important step to clean up its streams, creeks, and rivers in the county’s history. After years of debate and discussion, planning and preparation, the county is poised to create a dedicated, protected account for the restoration of our waterways, funded by a modest charge on the surfaces that channel stormwater into our rivers after every storm.
Unlike “dedicated” funds at the state-level, Anne Arundel County has a stellar track record of using its special revenue funds for the purpose for which they were intended. In fact, at the last County Council meeting, the County Auditor declared that in her 25 years of service with the county, she had “never” seen a case of those funds being misappropriated. She also explained that to do so would be a violation not only of county law, but also state law.
The stormwater bill currently being considered by the Council was the product of a consensus-based process that lasted about 6 months and included a wide variety of stakeholders, among them, representatives from the homebuilders’ industry, chamber of commerce, commercial and industrial property owners, and the marine trades association. The committee offered recommendations that will allow the county to meet its near-term and longer-term clean water permit obligations, and do so in a fair and equitable manner, spreading the responsibility evenly between sectors. Those recommendations were largely adopted in the bill the County Executive introduced, and have the buy-in of a wide swath of the regulated community. In many ways, the stakeholder committee process for this legislation represents a model of how individuals with divergent interests can come together on a difficult topic, work cooperatively, and achieve important solutions.
The committee’s financial targets were guided by the incredible information that the Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works has collected over the course of the past decade on the state of our waterways. Last year, when each county throughout the state was required to provide a plan to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) for how they intended to clean up their own streams, creeks, and rivers, Anne Arundel County served as a pilot project, showing other counties how it could best be done. Once the plans were submitted to MDE, it quickly became apparent that Anne Arundel’s plan was among the most complete and well-conceived in the state. This plan, the details of which can be found on the County’s website, will serve as the backbone for implementation of this monumental restoration task, a task the County, through assiduous planning, is well situated to tackle.
Not only will passage of this stormwater legislation put us on a path for clean water, according to a recent report by the University of Maryland, it will result in an infusion of dollars into the local economy. For instance, for every dollar spent on the construction of restoration projects we can expect about $2.20 in local economic impact. Similarly, for every dollar spent on the operations and maintenance of existing stormwater infrastructure, we can expect about $3.40 in local economic impact. Cumulatively, these investments will support hundreds of local jobs in engineering, landscaping, and construction contracting.
Importantly, we aren’t undertaking this work alone. The 10 largest counties in Maryland are all undertaking their own, similar initiatives, to clean up their waterways, and the state is contributing significant resources to help local governments with their work. Even smaller municipalities around the region, including Berlin, MD and Lynchburg and Charlottesville, in Virginia, have recently implemented stormwater utility programs to finance their clean water work.
For a community whose quality of life is so intricately tied to the health of our waterways, Anne Arundel County stands to gain tremendously by making a significant investment in our clean water infrastructure. This pending legislation does that, and puts us on the path to a healthier environment, a healthier economy, and a healthier future.