County to de­velop cli­mate change re­siliency strat­egy

Charles one of 3 coun­ties work­ing with new pro­gram

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By PAUL LAGASSE pla­[email protected]­news.com

Charles County is one of three coun­ties in the state that will be team­ing up with the Univer­sity of Mary­land’s Cen­ter for Global Sus­tain­abil­ity to de­velop strate­gies for pro­tect­ing com­mu­nity as­sets against the ef­fects of cli­mate change.

The “Re­siliency Plan­ning and Fi­nanc­ing for Mary­land Coun­ties” pro­gram, which will also include Queen Anne and Anne Arun­del coun­ties in its ini­tial phase, will

re­sult in a cus­tomized re­silience plan that the county can use to pre­pare for and re­spond to flood­ing, hur­ri­canes and other nat­u­ral dis­as­ters as they be­come stronger or more fre­quent due to cli­mate change ef­fects.

“We’re re­ally ex­cited to be part of that first group of coun­ties they’re work­ing with,” county ad­min­is­tra­tor Mark Bel­ton told the Mary­land In­de­pen­dent. “Cli­mate change [ef­fects are] widespread. It’s not just sea level rise. There’s a lot of things go­ing on there.”

Dur­ing the first phase of the project, which is ex­pected to last through Jan­uary, a team of county gov­ern­ment staff from a va­ri­ety of de­part­ments will be iden­ti­fy­ing the county’s crit­i­cal as­sets and rank­ing them by their im­por­tance in en­sur­ing the county is able to con­tinue op­er­at­ing dur­ing and after a cli­mate-re­lated emer­gency.

“In a lot of ways it’s like a risk as­sess­ment,” Bel­ton said. “If you have a most im­por­tant as­set in an area that’s go­ing to be im­pacted [by cli­mate change], then you’ve got to make some plans to deal with that.”

The sec­ond phase of the plan­ning process, which will likely last a year, will include iden­ti­fy­ing op­tions for fund­ing im­prove­ments to those crit­i­cal as­sets, which could include county funds as well as re­siliency grants from state and fed­eral agen­cies.

“As we put to­gether our capital bud­get, which is a six-year plan ... some of [the projects] have 30 year or more ser­vice lives,” Bel­ton said. “So you want to make sure they’re ready to with­stand the im­pacts of cli­mate change 30, 40, 50 years from now.”

One of the chal­lenges fac­ing re­silience plan­ners is iden­ti­fy­ing where the fund­ing will come from to con­struct new re­silient ar­chi­tec­ture as well as to but­tress ex­ist­ing re­sources — and per­suad­ing elected of­fi­cials to di­vert those funds from other projects.

“Ob­vi­ously, ev­ery ju­ris­dic­tion strug­gles with how to pay for ... new ini­tia­tives that weren’t al­ready on the books,” said county plan­ner Beth Groth, who is spear­head­ing the county’s team on the project. “We have a cou­ple of ex­perts [from the Univer­sity of Mary­land] on the team that are ... re­ally in­volved in this fi­nanc­ing piece. I’m re­ally get­ting ex­cited to hear what kind of [ideas] they have.”

The Cen­ter for Global Sus­tain­abil­ity, part of the univer­sity’s school of pub­lic pol­icy, sup­ports a num­ber of projects re­lated to cli­mate pol­icy, in­clud­ing pro­grams to stim­u­late fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment in sus­tain­able and re­new­able en­ergy prac­tices and de­velop strate­gies for adapt­ing to cli­mate change.

Groth de­scribes the re­siliency plan as re­quir­ing an “across the board shift” in the way the county thinks about pro­tect­ing its as­sets from risks associated with in­creas­ingly se­vere weather events — every­thing from re­duc­ing car­bon emis­sions by adding more pedes­trian-and bike-friendly op­tions to changes in the zon­ing code.

“When you’re talking about cli­mate change, you re­ally need to look at it very holis­ti­cally,” Groth ex­plained. “Down to the type of pa­per that we pur­chase. If it’s not re­cy­cled, it has an im­pact. Those are things we’re go­ing to have to re­ally be look­ing at over­all.”

Groth said her team will be con­duct­ing a green­house gas emis­sions in­ven­tory of county build­ings and ve­hi­cles, with the ul­ti­mate goal of re­quir­ing all fu­ture build­ing con­struc­tion to meet Lead­er­ship in En­ergy and En­vi­ron­men­tal Design, or LEED, stan­dards for emis­sions both dur­ing con­struc­tion and day-to­day use.

“There’s a lot of things that will be in our ar­se­nal when it comes to cli­mate change,” Groth said. “We’re go­ing to have to pretty much look at every­thing.”

Cli­mate change re­siliency is a pri­or­ity for Bel­ton, whom the board of county com­mis­sion­ers hired as county ad­min­is­tra­tor in Jan­uary after serv­ing as the De­part­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources sec­re­tary dur­ing the first term of Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R). Bel­ton said that he was able to con­vey the county’s in­ter­est in par­tic­i­pat­ing in the re­siliency plan­ning and fi­nanc­ing pro­gram through per­sonal con­nec­tions he had es­tab­lished dur­ing his time in An­napo­lis.

On Bel­ton’s watch as en­vi­ron­ment sec­re­tary, the state also es­tab­lished a Cli­mate Lead­er­ship Academy, a six-day pro­gram for lo­cal and state gov­ern­ment ex­ec­u­tives to ob­tain cre­den­tials as a cer­ti­fied cli­mate change profession­al. By the end of this year’s class, Bel­ton said, Charles County will have more grad­u­ates from the pro­gram than any other county.

Bel­ton said that he has been grat­i­fied to see a strong in­ter­est in ad­dress­ing cli­mate change issues among the younger staff mem­bers who grew up with en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion as part of their school cur­ric­ula.

“We’re all used to look­ing at the past as a pre­dic­tor of the fu­ture,” Bel­ton said. “In the fu­ture, we can’t look at that as the pat­tern to ex­pect. We need to look at what the sci­en­tists tell us the new norm is go­ing to be. You’ve got to have a whole dif­fer­ent lens on it. It’s a dif­fer­ent way of think­ing.”

STAFF PHOTO BY PAUL LAGASSE

Charles County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Mark J. Bel­ton said that the county gov­ern­ment’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in a re­siliency plan­ning and fi­nanc­ing pro­gram re­cently launched by the Univer­sity of Mary­land’s Cen­ter for Global Sus­tain­abil­ity will help iden­tify crit­i­cal as­sets that need to be pro­tected against nat­u­ral dis­as­ters that are trig­gered or made more se­vere by the ef­fects of cli­mate change.

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