It's July 31st, and for many, a time to take a short summer break. Our Council goes on recess starting tomorrow, but as you appreciate, our work doesn't stop just because we are not meeting.
And there is definitely work to be done. Our work on obtaining reliable electric power remains front and center. It has become the number one quality of life issue - edging out traffic for many of us. I am continuing to push for rapid improvement, and I know that you are too.
We also made history simply by sitting down with Fairfax County to discuss traffic issues. We may be fierce competitors when it comes to economic development, but we really need to be strong collaborators on working to reduce the number of single occupancy vehicles that travel between our two jurisdictions. And given that our respective states have not yet been able to adequately address this issue, we need to take the lead in presenting our own vision. We found a lot of common ground in that meeting and I expect there to be more in the future.
We also did well by our environment in the last several weeks. The Committee I chair, Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment, voted unanimously to ban the use of coal tar treatments for driveways and the like. It has been found in the sediment of our ponds and it isn't a good thing. And finally, our Council's unanimous support for allowing a sewer line to Glenstone, while not without controversy, is actually a net environmental plus.
So, I hope that you get to spend some quality time with your families in August. I certainly plan on it. As that old summer song goes, "See you in September!"
Public Service Commission Hearing
on Pepco and Pepco's Self-Evaluation
So many of you have contacted me or my office in response to the June 29 storm and Pepco's poor performance in the aftermath. Last week, the Chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission and Pepco officials attended a Council briefing in Rockville. (You can find my closing remarks from this briefing here.)
During the briefing, Chairman Douglas Nazarian announced that the Public Service Commission would be hosting a public hearing as part of the official record of the June 29 storm (Case #9298). The public hearing will take place on August 7 at 7:00 PM, at the Council Office Building in Rockville in the 3rd Floor Hearing Room. (100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville MD 20850).
If you wish to speak at the public hearing, you need only attend the meeting and sign up to speak on the sign-in sheets that will be provided. Unfortunately, it is not possible to sign up in advance. If you are unable to attend or wish to submit testimony before the hearing, you may send your testimony to:
David J. Collins, Executive Secretary
Maryland Public Service Commission
6 Saint Paul Street
Baltimore, MD 21202-6806
Because the Maryland Public Service Commission is the only body with regulatory authority over Pepco, it is extremely important that your voices are heard by this state agency. I have shared all of the emails our office received on the storm with the Chairman of the PSC, the Governor's office, and our state delegation. So do know that they are aware of our strong concerns. Indeed, the Governor just last week established a state working group to come up with recommendations on specific steps we should take to bring our grid into the 21st century.
Late yesterday, Pepco made its required filing with the Commission, in which it provides more details regarding its preparation and performance. You can find the filing here. There are interesting factoids as well as certain, limited admissions of things they could have done better. But, not surprisingly given the potential of significant penalties, Pepco argues that it did as well as it could under the circumstances. Our County will be reviewing the filing in detail and participating in the investigation on your behalf. But, in the meantime, I hope that you will seriously consider making your own voice heard - either at the meeting on August 7th, or directly with the Commission.
Montgomery and Fairfax Transportation Committees Hold Historic Meeting
On July 25th, the County's Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee (T&E), which I chair, met jointly with our counterparts in Fairfax County to discuss critical transportation issues facing our two jurisdictions and the region as a whole.
This unprecedented step demonstrates our collective determination to find solutions to our shared transportation priorities - finding effective ways to relieve congestion along the American Legion Bridge and creating new mass transit options that can connect the two jurisdictions like express bus service and a rapid transit system like Montgomery County is currently exploring.
The two committees heard from Ron Kirby, Director of Transportation Planning for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments who provided an overview of traffic on the Legion American Bridge and commuting patterns between Fairfax and Montgomery Counties. More than 230,000 people crossed the bridge every day in 2010, an increase of 10% over the 2000 level. I am sure those of you that travel this corridor between River Road in Montgomery to Chain Bridge Road in Fairfax understand the nature of this congestion all too well.
The joint committees discussed several possible solutions ranging from the use of express lanes, lane narrowing to make room for dedicated bus/HOV lanes, bridge widening, and the use of toll lanes. There are certainly no easy answers, but I promise you that Fairfax Chairman Sharon Bullova and I will continue to press our state transportation departments for solutions and continue to collaborate on this critical set of issues. I am confident that we will be able to find effective solutions that will help our residents spend less time in their cars and more time with their families and friends.
If you are interested in viewing the entire hearing, it may be posted soon on my website, so please check back.
Chevy Chase Lake Update
The Planning Department is continuing its work on the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan. Planning staff presented the "staff draft" to the Planning Board on July 16.
Once the Planning Board makes its final recommendations by the end of the year, the Council's Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee will begin its review of the plan. Although I do not sit on the committee, I do plan to attend these worksessions, as I have with other major land use plans affecting District 1. Just know that you will have plenty of opportunity to express your views on this when it is ready for our Council's review.
Glenstone Sewer Request
Earlier this year, the Council received a sewer request from the operators of the Glenstone Foundation. The Glenstone Art Gallery is a collection of abstract expressionists work that sits on a 200-acre estate in Potomac.
The Council considers sewer requests like this one very, very carefully. The Glenstone request falls under the Private Institutional Facilities Policy, or the "PIF" Policy. The PIF policy applies to non-profit institutions for properties outside the established water or sewer envelopes assumed in area Master Plans on a case by case basis. The Council has considered dozens of PIF requests over the past 20 years and approved many of them.
The County's Water and Sewer Plan, of which the PIF Policy is a part, ensures that growth in the County is limited to where growth is appropriate. In the case of Glenstone, the owners have ensured that more than 40 houses that could have been built on the property will not be built. Glenstone actually reduces development. Moreover, neighboring properties will not be permitted to connect to the new service, in order to prevent unintended development as a result of the expanded sewer. In fact, the new sewer connection applies only to what is needed by the museum - the owner's private residence, also on the property, will continue to be served by septic.
The Water and Sewer Plan also helps protect the environment from the adverse impacts of expanded sewer service. The Council included a provision in the approval resolution requiring the applicant to stay within a 15 percent imperviousness cap for the the subject property in its required stormwater management plan to be submitted to the County. This imperviousness is far below levels for other PIF requests previously approved by the Council elsewhere in the county. Moreover, there really are arguments why a discrete sewer hook-up is better for the groundwater than large septic. While there was concern expressed about a stream crossing, the technology and sophistication of what is know as "horizontal drilling" makes it possible to protect sensitive streams, and the applicant is committed to doing just that. On the whole, I concluded, as did all of my colleagues, that this proposal is actually a net plus for our environment.
Finally, there were a number of people who expressed concern that this would set a precedent for future actions. In fact, the precedential nature of the decision is quite limited. Our Council concluded that Glenstone is an "existing" user and that limits the scope of the "precedent" a lot. But, to the extent that there are other applicants on existing sites that reduce development pressure, preserve and enhance our environment, and contribute to our County's quality of life, then this is a precedent I can live with!
The Council unanimously approved the request. It now goes to the Maryland Department of the Environment for final approval.
A Ban on Coal Tar
On Thursday, the Council's Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy, and Environment Committee supported Bill 21-12, which would prohibit the use and sale of coal tar pavement products in the County.
"Coal tar" is a byproduct of the cooking of coal for the steel industry and is a known carcinogen that has a high concentration of "PAH" - or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The US Geological Survey and the American Chemical Society have both documented the hazards of coal tar.
As part of its stormwater management work, our County's Department of Environmental Protection recently dredged Lake Whetstone and observed that the sediment contained PAH above the state's standard. This not only presents an environmental concern, but also substantially increases the cost of disposal of the material. DEP testified in support of Bill 21-12.
Other communities have also banned coal tar products, including Washington DC, the state of Washington, Austin TX, and the California Department of Transportation. National stores that no longer carry coal tar products include Home Depot, Lowe's, and Ace Hardware. Asphalt-based alternatives are widely available.
The full Council will vote on Bill 21-12 when it returns from recess in September.
Bethesda is #17 in Cool
Last week, Forbes Magazine ranked Bethesda as #17 among America's "coolest cities," coming in ahead of Minneapolis and just behind Oakland, CA.
If you ask this Councilmember, who happens to live in and represent Bethesda, Forbes only confirms what we have long known - that Bethesda is in indeed a very cool place to be. In fact, Bethesda received a score of 95 on the magazine's "Arts and Culture index," a nod to the strong and vibrant arts community that calls Bethesda home.
Thank you to the Bethesda Urban Partnership, which does such an outstanding job supporting, maintaining, and promoting this wonderful community.