Environmentalists weigh in on stormwater compromise

MoCo LogoWhile the County Executive and Council have reached a tentative compromise on the issue of the future of stormwater-management projects and their contracting, environmental groups say they are skeptical about the plans.

On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Council held a public hearing on the compromise bill, which would bridge the divide between members of the County Council and the County Executive on the future of contracting for stormwater projects.

While some members of the County Council said they are hopeful about the prospects of a compromise, the environmentalists who testified Tuesday said they still have doubts about the plans.

Plans originally proposed by County Executive Ike Leggett to streamline the permit process for stormwater projects has caused worry among environmentalists, who believe that the contracting work, done by companies for profit, could lead to a reduction in the quality of environmental standards for stormwater projects.

“So, we must make sure we maintain our expert DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] staff and work with them, not against them,” said Diane Cameron, a member of the board of directors of Conservation Montgomery.

Currently, the County offers separate contracts for different companies to plan, design and build stormwater-management projects. Leggett proposed putting the entire process – the planning, designing and building – of a stormwater-management contract into one contract for a company to bid on, saying it would make the process more efficient and save taxpayers money.

Some members of the Council worried that Leggett’s proposal could lead to the County de-emphasizing environmental concerns for stormwater projects using the proposed contracting process.

Leggett’s proposed change was initially met with skepticism by some members of the County Council, who felt the proposal was rushed when the Council was in the middle of its budgeting, and could not focus on the details of Leggett’s plan. The confusion and eventual disagreement led to the Council’s leaving Leggett’s reforms out of their capital budget.

The disagreement came to a head after Leggett issued a line-item veto on the capital budget, something he has never done as County Executive. This eventually led to the compromise, where the County will test Leggett’s contracting reforms in exchange for the Council gaining greater oversight over stormwater-management projects.

This increased oversight will allow the Council to have more control over stormwater projects, through getting quarterly reports from DEP. In addition, the Council can allocate additional funding for projects, and will require officials from DEP to consult with advisory groups on the project.

While environmentalist are not against Leggett’s proposal to shift bids to design, build and maintain stormwater projects to one contractor, the worry is that companies will not prioritize environmental concerns.

Sylvia Tongetti, a member of the Montgomery County chapter of the Sierra Club, asked the Council to reduce the amount of funding for DBM contracts from $20 million to $10 million.

“Given the experimental nature of this proposed contract, we ask that the Council consider a smaller $10 million appropriation for a contract that covers the full life cycle of a subset of projects, instead appropriating funds for only the first phase of a five-year project for all capital projects,” she said.

The bill is set to go to committee on July 17.



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