Climate Change Working Group comments regarding the Livable Frederick Master Plan draft

EXCERPT: “In summary, the Livable Frederick Plan is a positive framework and a strong step forward in responsible planning – but in order to serve the citizens of Frederick County effectively, it MUST make climate change the lens through which all other planning and implementation of plans occurs.

The Climate Change Working Group includes scientists, engineers, and concerned citizens. We stand ready to be a resource to the County and its elected officials as you deliberate next steps.”

EDITORS NOTE: The letter below was a group effort, with substantial contributions from Karen Russell, Barb Trader, Kathleen Rall and Monica Greene.

To: Frederick County Planning Commission
Frederick County Council
Jan Gardner, Frederick County Executive
Steve Horn, Planning Division Director
John Dimitriou, Principal Planner

On behalf of the members of the Climate Change Working Group of Frederick County, we are submitting these comments developed after a review of the Livable Frederick Plan. The Climate Change Working Group (CCWG) includes approximately 50 Frederick County Citizens who have been meeting since 2016 to help Frederick County and its residents adapt to and mitigate the impacts of a changing climate through responsible planning, education and advocacy.

We commend the County Executive and Planning Commission for undertaking the task of long range planning in a comprehensive way with extensive citizen input. The extent to which public engagement was sought, and the resulting participation over a period of two years is impressive. We are grateful for this chance to submit our comments.

The resulting plan has both visionary and practical components. For example, we are pleased to note the expected population growth is centered in existing population centers, increasing the likelihood that ecosystems and farmland will be protected. There is an environmental section that notes important data points from which to plan – including strengths and challenges currently experienced in Frederick County.

However, we believe climate change must be the lens through which all other elements of the plan are considered in order to drive planning that will adequately meet the county’s future economic and health needs. The basic needs of human beings are clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, food to eat and shelter from weather – all of which are already under threat by the changing climate. We have played close attention to Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, Irma and Jose, and the 80+ wildfires in the western United States – all occurring in the past six months – and are horrified by the deleterious impacts these events have had on the health and wellbeing of rural and urban residents alike, including the devastating economic impacts. To keep Frederick County residents safe and healthy, any responsible planning effort must be led by a clear understanding of how the changing climate will impact us.

To that end, we have the following recommendations:

Air and Energy: Hasten the transfer of all electricity supplied to the County and its residents to renewable sources.

While the Livable Frederick plan includes clean energy initiatives and the promotion of clean energy investment, it recommends no immediate steps to cease using energy from coal fired power plants. More than 83% of all major air pollutants (sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, toxic mercury and soot) from power plants are from coal-fired plants. Particulate matter from these plants increases asthma, COPD, preterm births, and heart attacks. According to the recent Maryland Commission on Climate Change report, air quality is projected to decline, especially in the eastern U.S., due to warming temperatures. Ground level ozone will increase, leading to reduced lung function, a lengthened allergy season, and premature deaths. Therefore we urge radical immediate action to end the use of coal-fired power in Frederick County.

Water: Develop and implement a county water resource protection, conservation and flood mitigation plan:

Currently, two important sources of Frederick County drinking water, the Monocacy River and Lake Linganore, are polluted with elevated nutrients (particularly nitrogen) and suspended sediments. Walkersville plans to build a wastewater treatment plant at the Fountain Rock Spring, where ecologically significant wetlands are located; however, discharge through the wetlands cannot maintain the current wetland habitat nor natural bacterial processes that determine nutrient levels. Catoctin Creek plays a critical role in supporting wildlife and recharging the water table for residential wells; recharge areas for County groundwater must be identified and protected. Can we overlook nitrogen, phosphorus and fecal coliforms from livestock coming from farm fields? Ensuring watershed-wide buffer strips surround the Monocacy and its tributary shorelines can reduce these loads. According to the MD Commission on Climate Change, extended periods of drought are becoming more of the norm, separated by more intense storms, leading to higher and flashier flows of water, nutrients, and sediments, as well as flooding. Droughts and floods further stress aquatic ecosystems and the resident biota. As the climate changes, creating a plan that conserves and ensures clean water will also support wildlife and assure public health and safety.

Give priority land use designation to the protection of water sources:

Prevent development in critical watersheds and protect existing marshes and wetlands from construction practices. Incentivize more efficient forms of farmland irrigation, including grey water use, and mandate implementation of water runoff management (green infrastructure) in all development. Increase the use of pervious surfaces in order to safely absorb more storm water.

Agriculture and Food: Incentivize Regenerative Agricultural Practices:

The Livable Frederick Plan calls for a goal of 100,000 acres to be included in a reserve for agricultural use, an increase of 43,000 acres over the current total of 57,000. This goal of 100,000 acres represents half of all land used for agriculture in the county today. We strongly recommend that, in addition to incentivizing landowners to preserve their land into the future for agricultural use, the county must develop and implement an
additional incentive for regenerative agriculture. Every acre of Frederick County that transitions to regenerative agricultural practices not only becomes more agriculturally productive, it absorbs more rainwater, with deep-rooted crops that are drought tolerant. This soil also becomes a more effective “carbon sink” , drawing carbon back into the earth and cooling the atmosphere. In turn, this also means less toxic runoff into Frederick County’s waterways. Incentivizing regenerative agriculture would have significant impact in Frederick County as a way to both mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Cut Back on Food Waste:

It is estimated that half of all food produced in the US is wasted; yet, people are hungry and even in Frederick County, too many children and adults do not have enough food to be healthy and thrive. Food waste releases methane gas in landfills, unnecessarily heating the atmosphere. To respond responsibly to this paradox, Frederick County must set a food waste target, and develop “food hubs” so that unused/ unsold food from supermarkets and restaurants can be redistributed. Alexandria County, Virginia, is an example of a county that has adopted this practice. In addition, consumer food waste must be redirected through a comprehensive composting program.

Ecosystems: designate and protect wildlife corridors.

As the climate changes, animals and their sources of food will seek higher elevations and/or will migrate northward. Fragmented habitat resulting from human development isolates wildlife populations, leading to species decline and preventing this migration. In order to protect our natural ecosystem, those lands that define our County for many residents and tourists, we must create wildlife corridors—contiguous habitat that allows for this migration to occur. Frederick County’s green infrastructure map (pg. 46) shows natural features with topography and water resources that lend themselves to migration routes: the Monocacy River, Catoctin Creek and along Catoctin and South Mountains.

Recognition of the need for wildlife corridors is becoming more common, as awareness of human dependency on the natural world grows. For example, the vegetated overpass pictured below allows both drivers and wildlife safe passage, provides habitat connectivity and is inexpensive, in comparison to bridges that support vehicular traffic. Also, the Intercounty Connector includes at least one wildlife underpass.

Centralize natural resource management in one department at the county level:

A changing climate combined with population pressures have challenged our long-held cultural beliefs that there will always be clean air, clean water and so much land that no matter what pollution we produce, no matter how much forest we consume and no matter how far we intrude into natural areas with development, the earth will sustain us. At this moment in time, we must reverse these long-held cultural beliefs. Protecting our ecosystems enhances human life and is critical to our survival. Currently, responsibilities for natural resource management are dispersed among several county departments. We recommend organizing these departments such that there is a strong, science-based voice for Natural Resource Management in all County decisions on land use.

In summary, the Livable Frederick Plan is a positive framework and a strong step forward in responsible planning – but in order to serve the citizens of Frederick County effectively, it MUST make climate change the lens through which all other planning and implementation of plans occurs.

The Climate Change Working Group includes scientists, engineers, and concerned citizens. We stand ready to be a resource to the County and its elected officials as you deliberate next steps.


Karen Russell, Chair