Council Passes Compromise Over Process for Awarding Stormwater Contracts

Council Passes Compromise Over Process for Awarding Stormwater Contracts

Going forward, the county will work with a single contractor to design, build and maintain the project

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A "green streets" stormwater treatment planting along Dennis Avenue in Silver Spring
MONTGOMERY COUNTY

The County Council has formally approved a new method for awarding contracts for stormwater management projects in the county, officially ending a months-long standoff with the county executive.

For his part, County Executive Ike Leggett is getting his wish for a new stormwater contracting process that he believes will be simpler and more cost effective. The compromise gives the council oversight powers, allowing the county legislators to create an environmental advisory group to provide input on the projects. The council will also be able to appropriate additional money to the stormwater contractor if needed.

The council passed the compromise Tuesday by a unanimous vote among those present. The final decision came with barely any discussion from the dais, but President Hans Riemer assured the viewing public that plenty of negotiation and review had led up to that moment.

“Wow, that was a lot of work,” Riemer said following the vote.

A stormwater permit issued by the state requires the county to treat water runoff from its impervious surfaces, places such as parking lots or roofs that don’t let rain soak into the ground. Treatment can come in a number of forms—rain gardens, tree planting or the creation of stormwater ponds, for instance.

For many years, the county hired different contractors to design, build and maintain each of these projects, but Leggett earlier this year proposed changing the process so that only one contractor would handle the whole thing.

The council disagreed with the initial proposal and voted to maintain the established contracting method, setting off a back-and-forth with Leggett. The disagreement also played out behind the scenes, with rank-and-file Department of Environmental Protection employees lobbying council members not to move forward with Leggett’s proposal.

Leggett later vetoed the council’s decision to maintain the current contracting method, in the first line-item veto used by a Montgomery County executive in more than two decades.

The compromise hammered out last month will require the executive to provide quarterly updates to the council about the stormwater management program and also reduce Leggett’s recommended spending appropriation in fiscal 2019 from $43.2 million to $20 million.

The council will provide the $20 million up front and then approve a new appropriation later on after evaluating progress on the stormwater goals.

The contractor must also choose 10 to 12 projects to complete that have been partially designed but were suspended while the contracting debate took place.

Eliza Cava of the Audubon Naturalist Society said her organization was pleased with some aspects of the compromise and disappointed by others. In a Tuesday phone interview, she said people should focus on the broader water quality issues at stake.

“This debate has of course focused on the back-and-forth between the council and executive, but the reason that we care so much is because stormwater is an issue, and it’s getting worse,” Cava, the society’s director of conservation, said.

Unless runoff is treated, the county will be vulnerable to flooding during downpours, and the quality of its streams and rivers will suffer, she said.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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