Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has reactivated three storm water management projects that were previously suspended.
The county will move forward with plans to restore more than 1,800 feet of Old Farm Creek along Neilwood Drive in North Bethesda as well as more than 8,700 feet of the Grosvenor/Luxmanor Tributary in North Bethesda. The county will also resume progress on the Glenmont Forest Green Streets project— an effort to install raingardens along streets that cover a 243-acre area bordered by Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road.
The three projects were put on hold last year due to a change in DEP’s contracting approach.
Under the old system, projects involved hiring separate contractors for different phases of a project. But last summer the County Council approved a new method for awarding contracts that consolidates all of the design, building and maintenance work for each project under one contractor. The change was proposed by former County Executive Ike Leggett and was initially met with opposition from the council and DEP employees. The council first rejected Leggett’s proposal, only to have the county executive use his line item veto of the council’s decision to keep the old contracting method. The council eventually agreed to a cheaper version of Leggett’s proposal, with the county executive being required to give quarterly updates to the council.
After the department decided to transition to the new contracting system, 40 DEP projects were suspended to free up the funding necessary to implement the new system, said Frank Dawson, chief of the Watershed Restoration Division.
Under the federal Clean Water Act, Montgomery County and other suburban jurisdictions are required to build facilities to treat stormwater runoff according to a certain standard, said DEP Director Adam Ortiz. DEP must submit its stormwater management plans to the Maryland Department of the Environment for approval, he said, to receive a permit, which ensures the project complies with federal environmental guidelines.
The previous standard, as set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, was based on how many acres of impervious surface was treated.
“[The old standard] was how many parking lots and roads are we treating. Now the emphasis is going to be focused more on the amount of pounds of pollutants captured,” he said. “What that ends up translating to is how many acres of stormwater runoff do we need to treat and how many pounds of pollutants do we need to capture?”
Ortiz said the state has yet to give Montgomery County direction on what the EPA’s new standard is. In the meantime, he said the DEP made the determination they would move ahead with three of the most pressing projects.
“Since we’ve been in limbo with our permits, time continues to pass, and these projects are higher priority and higher urgency projects that we felt couldn’t wait,” he said.
Dawson echoed those sentiments, saying that it would likely be the fall before the county would have a better sense of how the permitting requirements would change, and how that would affect the new contracting process.
“We have a number of priority projects that we felt we should move forward on now, while we go through the process of advertising a new RFP [request for proposals] and selecting a new contract [for other projects],” he said.
Dawson declined to speculate on the timeline of the three projects that will resume.
“We have to understand how much time it would take to complete and the cost,” he said.
Council member Andrew Friedson, whose district includes the Grosvenor and Old Farm projects, wrote in a statement that he was pleased the two projects were moving ahead.
“These projects are important to improve water quality, to protect habitats in and around the streams, and for the quality of life of residents who in some cases have faced damage to their own property from the severe degradation of stream banks. We expect to hear more details soon about next steps,” he wrote.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org