Loudoun supervisors will use $200,000 of the county’s year-end budget surplus to cover the surprise costs of environmental work in floodplains, after apparently inadvertently placing floodplain property owners under more costly regulations.
In February 2017, the Board of Supervisors approved updates to flood maps in the county, under guidance from county staff members that those updates were required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or risk invalidating Loudouners’ flood insurance policies, as well as access to federal flood disaster relief. At the time, the county reported that risked around 700 flood insurance policies with an insured value of almost $188 million.
Now, said Supervisor Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn), it turns out that may have had the unintended effect of making it much more costly to do tree plantings or other best management practices in those areas, by putting those landowners under a requirement that they first complete an engineering study.
Supervisors voted unanimously Jan. 4 to send $200,000 to the Soil and Water Conservation District, which helps fund fences and plantings to protect waterways from runoff from livestock fields.
“Essentially, it took this program that was a very successful conservation program being implemented by Soil and Water, and it rendered it unusable because it was so expensive that none of the property owners wanted to make these improvements,” Turner said.
Turner said since that change, a number of shovel-ready projects have accumulated, stopped short by the expensive additional requirement. He said the $200,000 would both clear out that backlog of projects and buy time for the county to develop a program to bring those costs down in the future.
“In the interim time period, General Services’ plan to develop best management practices would be stood up and either eliminate the engineering requirement completely, because it would say this is the template whereby you will automatically get an engineering pass and a certification to do the work, or it would dramatically reduce the cost even if the engineering study was still required,” Turner said. “To be determined. But right now the goal is, with this relatively minimal amount, is to really put some nice conservation programs and practices in place in the floodplains.”
Other supervisors applauded Turner’s work. And some who were on the board at that time expressed frustration that they went into the 2017 vote without that information.
“Had I known that we would need an engineering study to simply plant some trees, I can’t imagine any of would have wanted to do that,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles).
“This is a perfect example of good intentions kind of going awry and not knowing kind of the back end, so it’s a reminder to me that any time we’re passing something, we want to look at it very, very carefully,” said Supervisor Caleb E. Kerhsner (R-Catoctin).
More information about the Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District is at loudounsoilandwater.com.