Issues with a direct impact on how we live and work in Montgomery County
Montgomery County, here is where we want to hear from YOU. Keep reading for few ideas about how to protect our environment and quality of life. If you have additional thoughts, drop us a line at ConservationMontgomery@live.com. Think of this list as a starting point for further discussion among residents and county decision-makers:
Effective clean water protection
Our local streams and rivers are Montgomery’s life-blood. Yet, over the years our streams and their surrounding lands have been literally washed away by polluted runoff. This problem has grown as the county has lost forests and trees and added paved surfaces through the years. The resulting erosion and pollution from stormwater runoff threatens our clean drinking water supplies, our infrastructure and past efforts at stream restoration.
Tree-lined county streets and a healthy tree canopy
Trees provide multiple environmental, aesthetic, economic and psychological benefits in our community. Our tree and forest inventory must be maintained in a way that preserves mature trees and encourages planting or re-planting of deforested areas. The Montgomery County Forest Conservation Law (FCL) was written in the early 1990s to replace some of the massive tree loss that occurred in the 1980s and to protect larger tracts of upland forest. The FCL has made some headway in the Up County over the past 16 years. But development trends have changed. To avoid suburban sprawl and loss of green space in the Up County, we now have a greater emphasis on dense development near urban centers and mass public transportation. Public sentiment calls for continuing to protect the beautiful 93,000-acre Agricultural Reserve from encroaching development. However, residents in the urbanized sections of the county want trees and green space too. In fact, the more we look at concrete and asphalt, the more important it becomes to see trees and sections of urban forest interspersed with buildings and roads. We must address the conundrum of preserving green space for all citizens in all parts of Montgomery County as we build. Dense building with ample green space as part of the design has been accomplished in other cities and counties throughout the country with stronger ordinances preserving mature trees.
Workable solutions to climate change
Climate change is a complex global issue but there is no question that local action is key. More than 30 states have drafted climate action plans and a number of counties and municipalities have done the same. Montgomery and adjacent counties can be part of a paradigm shift to mitigate and adapt to the existing impacts of climate change in our region. Our county enacted seven clean energy bills in 2007 and attempted to adopt a carbon tax in 2010. A carbon tax is a direct means of levying a charge on any entity that emits more than a given amount of tons of carbon dioxide in a given calendar year. The 2007 county legislation resulted in a draft Montgomery County Climate Action Plan. The county hired a consultant to evaluate the plan and reported that almost 98% of all carbon reductions projected to meet 2020 targets will need to come from residential energy efficiency and more energy efficient commercial buildings in Montgomery County. Our county needs to take the following next steps:
- There must be a champion for implementation of the county climate action plan within DEP and the County Executive must address this issue as a priority.
- Community education and outreach is essential.
- The county DEP should continue to provide educational tools for community leaders to use in telling homeowners how they can make improvements in home energy efficiency, remembering that every homeowner cannot afford retrofits to increase home energy efficiency.
- Training must be part of the plan.
- Qualified professionals can help homeowners conduct energy audits and install energy saving features in homes.
We can all see that our roads are more congested. And with that congestion comes poor air quality and increases in CO2 emissions that contribute to negative impacts of climate change. Our pattern in Montgomery County has been to build more roads and widen existing roads. But isn’t there a better way? Perhaps it’s time to move more people instead of cars and improve our existing modes of public transportation. Our Metro system is aging and cannot fully support the number of daily commuters in the area. There have been promising proposals for transportation infrastructure improvements over the past four years. A Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) recommendation has been explored by the Council and community stakeholders. Light rail approaches to a Purple Line are under discussion but are complicated since light rail is deemed as a detriment to bicycle commuting and other activities along the Capital Crescent Trail.
A recent U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) study of I-95 and I-270 showed that if we took 10% of the cars off those roads every day, we would be within range of sustainability goals. (Find the study at: http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/fhwahop09017/index.htm) So how do we grapple with the thorny issue of reducing the number of cars on the road?
- Montgomery County needs to create a well-connected grid for public transportation that incorporates a variety of ways to move people every day.
- We need more public education in terms of practical ways to reduce the number of daily car trips in Montgomery County.
- Employers throughout the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area need to implement tele-work policies for employees.
Green public space and parks
With each passing day, our county parks and open space play a critical role in the health of all who work and live in Montgomery County. Parks are not just places to play and relax, but contribute significantly to better air and water quality. The Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission Department of Parks maintains approximately 34,000 acres representing nearly 10% of Montgomery County’s total land area. In addition to providing facilities, our county parks include some of our significant natural and cultural resources — including environmentally sensitive stream valleys, biodiversity areas, best natural areas, and 110 standing historic structures. Our award-winning park system is threatened by recent budget cuts that restrict crucial maintenance, programs and policing. Council budget decisions cut the Parks budget this year by 16.5% less than the requested amount. This amounts to $10 million less than the FY2010 budget for our parks. Even without a budget crisis, our open spaces are jeopardized by efforts to turn them over to non-park uses such as housing, cell phone facilities and stormwater mitigation for private development.
- Our parks need to be free of political maneuvering with stewardship requirements (maintenance and acquisition) fully funded. The county needs to adopt a policy that the Parks Department will be full partners in decision-making involving our Parks system and use of parklands and facilities. Similarly, the Montgomery County stormwater code amendments, under revision in 2010, require that the Parks Department be a partner in decision-making about any stormwater management facility proposed to be located within a county park.
- Use of parkland for stormwater management should be rare, since recent practices have involved cutting down trees in order to build stormwater ponds – a damaging process that is considered outmoded by more effective, on-site green infrastructure techniques.
The views of local residents who live in and near a proposed development or redevelopment project must be weighted more heavily in local decision-making. In the recent past, we’ve experienced far too many development decisions that seem to overlook the expressed needs of the local civic community living adjacent to a development project. When there is a higher premium placed on economic development than on the concerns of existing neighborhoods, we sometimes sacrifice the desirable characteristics that originally brought us to our Montgomery communities.
- Our county and state officials must have the commitment to make difficult decisions when it comes to land use and preservation of county programs that contribute to our overall quality of life and natural resource protection. County elected officials must live up to promises made at election time and go an extra mile beyond those promises.
- County officials, both elected and in the career work force, must LISTEN to all stakeholders in our communities. Residents of Montgomery County who take the time to attend county hearings on issues that have a direct impact on them should never walk away feeling dismissed by local officials.
- A solution to many of concerns expressed by Montgomery County residents is to rework our local economic development strategy, so that the needs of each local community are priorities.