County looks to combat storm water with rain gardens, green jobs

Published by The Prince George’s Sentinel

Prince George’s County property owners will see red on their annual tax bills, but green on the roadways with the newest initiative introduced by the Department of Environmental Resources.

Planned to take effect in July, the Watershed Protection and Restoration Program is aimed at addressing storm water runoff pollution by retrofitting parking lots, roads and roofs with natural pollutant-filtering devices to improve waterways.

Storm water runoff pollution occurs when rainwater hits impervious surfaces, like roofs, driveways, parking lots and roads, gathering trash and chemicals that flow from gutters and storm drains to local waterways, according to the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“We’re going to focus first on public spaces – mostly roadways (to) help us upgrade some of our old, rundown gateways into the county to beautiful green boulevards,” Department of Environmental Resources Director Adam Ortiz said.

The countywide initiative stems from federal legislation mandated in the Clean Water Act.

“It’s a trickle down mandate with the feds,” Ortiz said.

His department will be creating rain gardens, retrofitting roadways with permeable pavement, constructing bioswales, and building other storm water treatment devices to combat the pollution.

  • Rain gardens – shallow depressions planted with deep-rooted native plants and grasses – capture rainwater runoff and stop water from reaching the sewer system, according to the Rain Garden Network.
  • Permeable pavement allows storm water to seep into the ground as it falls, rather than flowing into storm drains, waterways and the Chesapeake Bay, according to a fact sheet published by the University of Maryland.
  • Bioswales are mechanisms designed to filter water and absorb low flows of storm water, supplying rivers and streams with a slow, purified seep rather than surges of polluted surface runoff, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The program is designed to treat 8,000 acres of impervious surfaces with the $1.2 billion in fees collected from county property owners by 2025.

Impact fees will be spent on building more than 40,000 rain gardens and other storm water treatment devices, Ortiz said. And a flat $20.58 administrative fee will be used to inspect devices.

The Department of Environmental Resources will target older communities “built with pollution pipelines” into rivers with no environmental controls,” but the fees are the same across the county.

“Our older communities basically (are) built with pollution pipelines into our rivers with no environmental controls,” Ortiz said.

Depending on the lot size, homeowners will be charged from $33.12 to $62.38 on their property tax bill. Maryland Homeowners Tax Credit and Energy Assistance Subsidy recipients will be credited for the full fee amount.

When asked how the figures were calculated, the director said it is based on the amount of retrofit required to meet a “pollution diet” that is regulated by the Maryland Department of the Environment. This calculation was then used to estimate the cost of building new systems throughout Prince George’s County.

All county homeowners can reduce the fee to the administrative cost if they retrofit their property with approved runoff treatment practices.

“We need as many people as possible to pitch in now. We’re the government, but we’re only government,” Ortiz said. “We can’t succeed in creating a green and beautiful Prince George’s County without the participation of property owners, so we urgently need their participation.”

The County’s Department of Environmental Resources’ staff will be available to advise residents on the types of devices they can implement to receive credit and proper installation support, Ortiz said.

And the county is also providing property owners with limited rebate funds to retrofit their properties.

Industrial and commercial property owners will be charged $372 for each impervious acre.

Funding for the Watershed Protection and Restoration Program is expected to employ 5,000 people with new green jobs and generate new local green businesses over the next 13 years, according to the county’s environmental resources website.

It will also establish a training and employment pipeline by expanding the youth jobs program and partnering collegiate science, engineering and architecture students with high-level county personnel through fellowships, Ortiz said.

Executive Director Roland L. Jones of the county government’s Supplier Development & Diversity Division emphasized the watershed program will offer “tremendous” benefits to local businesses.

“The need for creative, innovative solutions will provide the opportunity for firms that have been excluded in certain areas,” including architecture, civil engineering and landscaping, Jones said. At least 35 percent of the government’s long-term contracts will be awarded to County-based minority-owned businesses.

“This will be an economic engine,” Jones said. “Businesses will be hiring Prince George’s County residents.”

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