Prince George’s County officials are touting a $1.2 billion retrofit plan to protect its waterways from urban pollution as required by the federal Clean Water Act.

Last year, in response to the federal mandate, Gov. Martin O’Malley enacted the Watershed Protection and Restoration Program, which required the state’s major jurisdictions to devise a plan to collect a fee from property owners to address the issue of stormwater runoff pollution from impervious surfaces.

“Virtually all of the county’s major waterways (Anacostia, Patuxent, and Piscataway) are impaired, and have been so for many years,” the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club has said.

The major culprit, the environmental protection group said, is the pollution that occurs when trash, oil, sediment, chemicals and other pollutants that are collected on nonabsorbent surfaces like roofs, roads, parking lots and driveways are washed by rain into the storm drains, then emptied into the county’s creeks, rivers, lakes and streams.

“Our environment in Prince George’s County is very distressed by trash and pollution,” said Adam Ortiz, acting director for the Department of Environmental Resources for the county. “This is an opportunity not just to clean it up, but also to make our county stronger economically.”

According to the draft plan, in addition to a flat administrative fee of $20.58, commercial and industrial properties will pay $372 per impervious acre per year; residential properties will pay based on a three-tier system: properties with up to 1,479 square feet of impervious surface pay an impact fee of $12.54; up to 2,465 square feet pay $20.90 and up to 4,930 square feet pay $41.80.

“Our fees are the lowest among our neighboring jurisdictions,” Ortiz said. For example, Montgomery County charges a residential impact fee of $109.73 and Harford County charges $125.

The plan offers an exemption for those who can prove economic hardship; and property owners can receive up to 100 percent of the Impervious Surface Impact Fee if they have installed a recognized structural device or practice some means of storing, treating or using stormwater runoff in order to mitigate pollution.

With the collected fees and an infusion of capital from private investors, the county will treat some 8,000 acres of uncontrolled impervious surfaces at a cost of approximately $1.2 billion and complete the program by 2025. The funds will be used solely to retrofit parking lots, roads and roofs with various treatment devices, such as rain gardens and tree planters, that will naturally filter out pollutants from stormwater.

Not only would the plan revitalize aging neighborhoods, Ortiz said, but it will boost the local “green” economy.

“This project is a massive jobs program,” he said. “A large majority of our residents go outside the county for work, we made extra efforts to make sure the jobs created are here in the county and grow county businesses…. This program will bring prosperity here, at home.”

About 5,000 new jobs will be created, officials said, and the summer youth program could be expanded, which could help drive down the county’s 7 percent unemployment rate and create a broader taxpayer base.

The investments could also help create new businesses or expand existing ones in the areas of engineering, landscape architecture, construction and maintenance.

Training and mentorship will be provided to some of those businesses under the Business Development Reserve Program (BDRP), which will set aside procurements for Minority Business Enterprises (MBE), Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBE), Service Disabled Veterans (SDV), and Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) businesses.

The Prince George’s County Council is expected to hold a hearing on the Clean Water Act Fee on June 20, but Ortiz seemed confident that lawmakers and citizens would buy into the plan.

“They’re going to get a lot of bang for their buck with the economic and environmental impact,” he said.


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO