Editor’s Note: The following article is one in a series of six profiles of winners of NCPPP’s 2015 National Public-Private Partnership Awards that recognize organizations and individuals who have gone above and beyond to advance the concept and implementation of P3s across the country. The winners were honored during P3 Connect 2015 in Boston.
While many observers were watching Maryland legislators debate last spring whether to ease or repeal stormwater fees, Adam Ortiz was starting a Clean Water Partnership program that would use those fees to install infrastructure to prevent polluted rainwater runoff from flowing into sewers and then into the Chesapeake Bay.
This 30-year, $100 million partnership — which could be increased to $200 million — will make 15,000 acres of watertight surfaces permeable and thus able to absorb or treat the runoff. The program involves installing 46,000 stormwater devices, such as rain gardens, cisterns, bioswales and permeable pavements. Under Ortiz’s leadership as director of the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment, the county is partnering with Corvias Solutions, which is designing, building and maintaining these improvements. The company also has agreed to finance up to 40 percent of the program upfront to break ground quickly. The flexible partnership allows the county to use various funding options, including fees, grants and private capital.
While the program’s primary goal is to satisfy federal Clean Water Act requirements and restore local waterways, the program also will boost economic development by employing local, small and minority construction and maintenance businesses. Prince George’s will serve as an incubator for the creation for new locally based green infrastructure businesses, encouraging local hiring and training.
Ortiz has pointed out that this chance to overhaul the county’s water infrastructure is in keeping with its philosophy of conducting “low-impact development” — the notion that stormwater should be managed at the source rather than being piped into retention ponds or rivers. The other benefits it offers to local residents are important to him as well.
“This is less a federal regulatory program and more of a community development program,” said Ortiz. “We’re building tens of thousands of little ecosystems in some of our most disadvantaged areas,” he told Governing magazine. He later added, “We’re talking about streetscapes and green and lush elements in asphalt- and concrete-laden neighborhoods. That’s a tremendous opportunity and investment in capital dollars that many of these neighborhoods would not otherwise see.”
NCPPP presented its Leadership Award to Ortiz for crafting an innovative and community-focused solution to the stormwater runoff problem. The program has also won praise from officials at the local and federal levels.
“This partnership puts us in the forefront of creating clean, green and healthy communities and emphasizes the need for collaborative strategies to provide new solutions in the area of stormwater management,” said Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III. He thanked the Department of the Environment and Ortiz “for their hard work and ingenuity in creating this economic and environmental opportunity for our residents and local and minority businesses.”
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy hailed the Clean Water Partnership program as well. “By providing innovative financing support for sustainable and resilient water infrastructure, this collaboration will help the community improve their drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems,” she said.
The Prince George’s project follows the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) community-based public-private partnerships model (CBP3) developed by the Region 3 office in Philadelphia. The EPA describes the CBP3 approach as a flexible, performance-based platform for developing affordable, integrated green stormwater infrastructure to meet a variety of regulatory and community needs.
The White House Council on Environmental Quality said the innovative P3 approach is one that other communities can use as a model to invest in infrastructure, revitalization, small business and job creation.
This program is not Ortiz’s first environmental initiative. As mayor of Edmonston, Md., in Prince George’s County, he oversaw the construction of the East Coast’s greenest street, by using rain gardens, porous brick and trees to filter runoff and prevent it from flowing into rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. Wind energy powers highly efficient LED streetlights and innovative street design improves pedestrian safety. More than 60 percent of the contractors involved were local, minority firms. The EPA and the Chesapeake Bay Trust have since launched programs to promote and fund similar green streets elsewhere.
While describing the project, Ortiz told The Washington Post, “We have to make things happen for us instead of making things happen to us.”