WYPR News: Baltimore County lays out plan — and at least $2 million — for climate change fight in 2023

Originally written by John Lee for WYPR News on January 5, 2023

Baltimore County has a plan to pay for damage caused by climate change in its back yard, officials announced on Thursday. The plan includes establishing a Resilience Authority to find ways to pay for long-term projects as well as getting nearly $2 million to help Turner Station, the historically-Black neighborhood in Eastern Baltimore County.

This year, the county will be making moves to set up the Resilience Authority with guidance from its paid consultant, Throwe Environmental LLC. The county council in December agreed to pay Throwe up to $250,000 to help it create the Resilience Authority.

Dan Nees, the director of policy and finance for Throwe Environmental said in the coming months they will be doing an exhaustive assessment of the county, including where the climate threats are, the county’s budget picture and how decisions are made.

“Our primary goal, number one goal above all else, it is our job to make sure that the communities we work in are getting the maximum amount of return for every taxpayer dollar that they invest,” Nees said.

The authority would find money to pay for projects related to climate change. Nees said that could be a wide range of possibilities from going after federal dollars to investing in real estate, to creating taxing districts where fees are collected to fund a project.

“Where you could have a community that said ‘we are having a flooding problem.’ The county can’t really work on private property very effectively. But the authority could,” he said.

Another option for paying for damage done by extreme weather, according to Nees, is for the authority to issue bonds. He said that debt would be backed by revenue the authority creates, not Baltimore County.

“You would not want to have an authority like this issuing debt that is backed by what is referred to as the full faith and credit of the county, because if you did that then the county wouldn’t need the authority, it would just issue their own debt,” Nees said.

In 2020, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation that enables localities the right to create resilience authorities. Charles County has one. Anne Arundel County and Annapolis have one as well.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, in a statement, said the county is seeing both the environmental and financial consequences of climate change.

“A Resilience Authority will allow Baltimore County to proactively research and establish dedicated financial resources to projects to reduce flooding and damage to county and community infrastructure,” Olszewski said.

Throwe Environmental is expected to give the county a final report on its assessment in the fall.

Meanwhile, federal dollars are on the way to Turner Station.

Community members said they have seen increased flooding in recent years, which they blame on climate change. They have questioned the government’s slow response to dealing with it.

In a November interview, Turner Station resident Renwick Glenn said the neighborhood has been ignored.

“Because it’s a Black community and our elected officials do not come here and do what they’re supposed to do,” Glenn said. “The money that was allocated here, they put it somewhere else.”

Olszewski has acknowledged that Turner Station has been ignored over the years but added that is changing.

There is nearly $1.5 million tucked into the federal Omnibus Spending Bill passed by Congress in December for Turner Station.

U.S. Rep. C. A. “Dutch Ruppersberger said in a statement that the money will be used “to plan for potential flooding scenarios (in Turner Station) in order to best protect lives and livelihoods.”

The county also is getting a $500,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s National Coastal Resilience Fund to be used in Turner Station.

The foundation works “to protect and restore the nation’s fish, wildlife, plants and habitats for current and future generations,” according to its website.

“It’s critical we do all we can to mitigate the impact of climate change, and this new funding will help us strengthen the environmental resiliency of one of Baltimore County’s most historic and impacted communities,” Olszewski said.