Greening Our Cities

Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, MD (Image from  Image from Flickr Commons

Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, MD (Image from Image from Flickr Commons

There were numerous ways to learn about how planners can have a positive effect on water at NPC18. One session in particular highlighted how Prince George County used a public private partnership to retrofit their community with green infrastructure. Presenters covered the history of the program from inception through completion of Phase I and adjustments made prior to launching Phase II.

Back in 2010, the federal government passed new standards under the Clean Water Act that were intended to  identify and reduce pollution from stormwater runoff associated with rooftops, sidewalks, driveways, roadways, and parking lots. As a response, House Bill 987 was passed requiring nine Maryland counties and the City of Baltimore to collect fees to implement a stormwater pollution clean-up program.

In 2013, Prince George County’s council passed two pieces of legislation to comply with the federal regulation. The first bill established the Clean Water Program and the Local Watershed Protection and Restoration Fund. The second established the fee structure for the program.

After passage of this legislation, Prince George County was faced with the arduous task of meeting the Clean Water Program requirements on a tight schedule. They took what seemed to be a difficult task and quickly turned it into a placemaking and neighborhood identity program. They showed that communities can not only reduce pollution, but also create welcoming and inclusive spaces at the same time. Additionally, the program focused on small local businesses and depressed areas creating positive economic impacts. Each project was designed to achieve multiple benefits.

The program included tangible development and economic incentives. On top of physical installations, the County created a rain check program for private property owners. Each owner that installed a best management practice (BMP) on their property received a rebate. The County realized the high number of non-private properties and found they could create a large impact by partnering with churches, schools, and nonprofits to retrofit many sites and educate the organization members on ways they could contribute to pollution control.

With the volume of infrastructure projects needed to meet the goals of the Clean Water Act, the County knew they would need a long term maintenance plan and outside assistance. They partnered with Corvais to design and build 4,000 acres of the total 15,000 acres required by the regulations. The benefit of contracting with an outside company was they could complete the projects must faster and at a reduced cost than the public agency which would have been bogged down by government regulations for each individual project. Additionally, the County built in a 30 year financing plan into each project. The structure of the partnership included incentives for Corvais to create local jobs and complete projects on time. Corvais in turn created a mentor-protégé program to train small, local contractors to work on the projects.

In the end, Prince George County proved that mandates for clean water programs can be more than a burden for a community and instead create the opportunity to educate and grow the local job market. The County spent $1 million on 94 projects from 2015 to 2018 and an additional $1.1 million is proposed on 250 more projects between 2018 and 2021.