[Originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel, February 8th, 2019]

ROCKVILLE – The Montgomery County Council unanimously approved a financial assurance plan that indicates it is on track to fund certain water-quality programs, to the chagrin of some county residents.

The financial assurance plan, or FAP, stated that the county has enough funds to meet the Phase 1 Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit requirement for impervious surfaces restoration (ISR).

In a public hearing on Jan. 29, however, residents voiced their opinions mostly about the Water Quality Protection Charge (WQPC), ranging from concerns on how it is assessed to which properties are eligible.

According to a memo from senior Legislative Analyst Keith Levchenko, “none of the testimony given identified specific issues with the 2018 Financial Assurance Plan that is before the council for action,” so the FAP passed unanimously with little more than an introduction from Levchenko, the concerns in the public hearing were largely ignored.

“Someone is just not doing their job,” said businessman and property owner, Devin Battley. “And the county continues to deny WQPC credits to responsible corporate citizens who actually are being environmentally conscious in managing their own storm water, and even some of the county’s storm water—at no charge to the county.”

The Pels Law Firm, which is “representing Montgomery County property owners in lawsuits and appeals challenging the county’s imposition of the Water Quality Protection Charge upon them and/or denying statutorily required credits against the Charge,” according to the firm’s press release, stated that the county’s failure to meet MS4 requirements cost county taxpayers “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The requirement was to complete 20 percent of the ISR plan by the time the permit expired (February 15, 2015), but the county failed to do so. The county then signed a consent decree with the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE), which stated that the ISR plan must be completed by the end of 2020, among other stipulations.

The county met its 20 percent goal in December 2018.

“By basing property tax on impervious surfaces, the county is unreasonably assessing the WQPC,” said county resident Brian Porto at the public hearing, bringing up another point of contention.

Not all complaints dealt with the WQPC, however. Bruce Gilmore, a member of the Audubon Naturalist Society, questioned foresight and wondered about the contents of the next permit.

“What will be the next permit? What will it say? What will It require? How far will it move the ball towards full restoration of our local waterways and full restoration of the Chesapeake Bay?” asked Gilmore.