COLLEGE PARK – On July 12, the Prince George’s Sierra Club has presented its 2018 Walter “Mike” Maloney Environmental Service Award to Adam C. Ortiz, the current Director of the County’s Department of the Environment and former Mayor of Edmonston.
This award, named after a prominent civic advocate and county councilman, is awarded to an individual who has paved the way towards building communities that promote environmental sustainability.
Originally from Hudson Valley, New York, Ortiz had an early start with environmental activism, completing his first internship with Hudson River Clearwater, a nonprofit organization that serves to protect the Hudson River, its tributaries and its surrounding bodies of water through educational programs, advocacy and celebrations. From there, his career with environmental activism and advocacy commenced.
“I’ve always felt a connection to the environment,” Ortiz said, “and I’ve always felt the need to help out anytime I can, so I have a lot of compassion for people, and environmental responsibility…for this planet.”
Throughout his tenure as mayor of Edmonston from 2005-2011, Ortiz implemented various innovative green initiatives that set a precedent for other towns to follow.
Before his initiatives, the town was turmoiled with frequent incidents of severe flooding. Levees and a pumping station were previously installed to mend the problem but were unable to do so sufficiently. Furthermore, developments within the town caused for a separate source of flooding and further worsened the dilemma.
Then came Ortiz’s widely-recognized “Edmonston Green Street Project,” a method that would not only fix the historic flooding disasters, but would transform Decatur Street, a street that was often the most severely hit during the floods, and metamorphize the area into one of the greenest streets on the east coast.
“The achievement of that Green Street was very well known, even before he became the director of the Department of Environment, as a major contribution to Prince George’s,” says Martha Ainsworth, Chair of the Prince George’s Sierra Club. “He’s been on our radar for a long time.”
With a new $6 million pumping station that utilized three Archimedes’ screws, floodwater that would have previously gathered was lifted out of the town and over the levee.
In a separate effort to further reduce stormwater runoff, bio-retention cells (or rain gardens) and permeable pavement were used to capture and filter rainfall. This system captures the first 1.33 inches of precipitation, which means that 90% of all rainwater will be wholly filtered before making its way to the Anacostia, therefore exponentially improving water quality and reducing flooding.
Many residents have noticed these immense changes under Ortiz. William F. Fronck Sr., 83, noted that the number of floods had reduced significantly, mainly since the number of floods that occurred before the pumping station was built were “too many to count.”
“It flooded every time there was a hard rain. This was the lowest part of the town, right here at this corner,” Fronck says as he points to the corner of his street. “It’s a totally different town now…we haven’t had any more floods. I can’t remember if it was 2005 when we had the last one.”
Other changes that were enacted were widened sidewalks and accommodating trails for walkers, runners, and bikers; LED street lights powered by wind energy and the planting of various native tree species.
Ortiz then furthered his environmentalist career when he became appointed as the county’s Director of the Department of the Environment in 2012. His responsibilities expanded to overseeing a 300-person department, while administering programs that dealt with “stormwater management, animal services, trash, recycling and composting,” according to Ortiz.
As director, Ortiz has made tremendous strides towards enacting Zero Waste policies, policies that deemphasizes waste disposal, and instead highlight “waste reduction, reuse, recycling, composting, and diversion,” according to the press release released by the Sierra Club.
“The Zero Waste project is trying to discourage as much material landfill as possible, and its focus is on recycling and composting,” says Ortiz. “We’ve been able to get up to 65 percent waste diversion, which is now the highest in the state of Maryland. 65 percent was issued by encouraging residents and businesses to recycle more, use laws that made recycling required and getting rid of non-recyclable materials like Styrofoam.”
Located in Upper Marlboro, Ortiz was able to expand the Western Branch Composting Facility’s waste composting program to be the “largest on the east coast, and has taken the lead state-wide in the recycling rate,” said Ainsworth. Currently operating as a pilot program, the program picks up food scrap compost from 200 homes once a week, and not only has “helped our county to be more sustainable, but also create a compost product that generates revenue,” according to Ortiz.
Other environmental initiates that were introduced by Ortiz include the Clean Water Partnership, the introduction of the LitterTrak app and educating businesses about the County’s ban on polystyrene foam food containers.