Prepare for the Worst – Maryland Matters

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Flooding near the wharf in the city of Annapolis. Photo of the city of Annapolis.

The explosion in the Arctic in Texas and the resulting power outages are unfortunately only the most recent of many serious weather events.

In Maryland, a recent NOAA study shows that the frequency of flooding is increasing dramatically in vulnerable areas like Cambridge, Tolchester Beach, Baltimore City, Annapolis and the Solomon Islands. For example, projections for the city of Baltimore show that 5 to 9 days of flooding will occur in 2020, 15 to 25 days in 2030, and 50 to 155 days in 2050. Flash floods, such as those experienced in Ellicott City, cause millions of dollars in damage and lives lost.

With increasing risk, the return on investment for flood mitigation has increased from $ 4 to $ 6 in savings for every $ 1 invested. In 2020, for the first time ever, communities were eligible for a new federal program to fund disaster resilience projects BEFORE the next natural disaster.

State Senator Katie Fry Hester (D-Howard)

Thanks to the Federal Emergency Management Association’s (BRIC) Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program, millions of dollars in grants are now available for mitigation projects that reduce the costs of future disasters. Under the Biden administration, FEMA plans to add an additional $ 3.7 billion to the BRIC, with the possibility of including up to $ 10 billion.

The BRIC has four priorities: public infrastructure; projects that mitigate risks to one or more community lifelines; projects that integrate nature-based solutions; and adoption / enforcement of modern building codes. Resilience measures can include everything from flood walls to installing a fiber optic network.

There is a database of projects in the FEMA Mitigation Actions Portfolio. Speaking on BRIC grants last year, Maryland Emergency Management Administration Executive Director Russell Strickland said, “Our vision of shaping a resilient Maryland where communities thrive requires us to constantly prepare. and that we mitigate future emergencies. Funding for these projects will help achieve this.

While Maryland has been working on resilience for some time, we must act with greater speed and urgency to prevent our coasts from being washed away, our croplands from salinization, and our buildings and roads from damage. The Maryland Commission on Climate Change was established in 2007 and tasked with “developing a plan of action and a firm timeline for mitigating and adapting to the likely consequences and impacts of climate change.” However, to protect our coastal communities, we must do more to identify, develop and fund priority resilience projects.

We need someone in the State of Maryland who is ultimately responsible and accountable for our resilience. This person must think 10 to 30 years ahead, plan and invest accordingly.

Senate Bill 62 creates a Chief Resilience Officer (CRO), a leadership position within the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, responsible for coordinating resilience and mitigation efforts across state agencies in partnership with industry. This position exists in various forms in 10 states including Oregon, Florida, Louisiana, West Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Colorado, Rhode Island and Virginia, as well as many localities and cities.

Working alongside the Commission’s Adaptation and Resilience Working Group on Climate Change, the CRO will coordinate national and local efforts to BUILD resilience, moving from planning to off-the-shelf projects. More specifically, the CRO will ensure that we:

● Secure, identify and help access state, federal and private funding flows that contribute to resilience

● Engage businesses, industry and local leaders on best practices for different sectors to increase resilience

● Oversee the development of a resilience benchmark and a set of goals and measures to increase resilience

● Report to the Governor and the General Assembly on the progress and milestones of the state’s strategy for resilience

Obtaining federal funding is first on the above list on purpose. Investing in infrastructure is essential for resilience. In the first year of the BRIC program, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency submitted applications for state and local projects valued at over $ 78 million of projects (combined from 24 community projects developed locally) for federal support.

Senate Bill 901 establishes the Resilient Maryland Revolving Loan Fund as a permanent special fund, specifically designed to raise funds from the federal government. The federal STORM law, enacted earlier this year, provides funding to capitalize state revolving loan funds at the state level. These loans can then be used to provide much-needed resources for the local portion of federal grants, many of which require local matching.

For example, with an initial investment of $ 10 million, Maryland could use the 90:10 federal match in the STORM act to draw $ 90 million from the revolving credit fund. These loans could then be used to fund the local matching required by the federal government for BRIC grants. This would allow a county to use a $ 1 million state loan to secure a $ 3 million BRIC grant.

Maryland must have a coordinated disaster mitigation and climate resilience strategy that includes stakeholders at the local level. We must act quickly to prepare our state for a rapidly changing climate, as well as the risks and dangers we face today. As a coastal state, Maryland will be at the forefront of climate change, but the actions we take now will decide whether we are at the forefront of resilience.

– KATIE FRY HESTER AND JENNIFER SOLAN

Democrat Senator Katie Fry Hester represents District 9 in Carroll and Howard counties. She sits on the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee and is Maryland’s representative on the Disaster and Risk Management Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Jennifer Solan is a public policy student in government and politics at the University of Maryland, College Park.

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