From my time on the Planning Commission and growing up at a marina, storm water and infrastructure concerns are always top of mind. At the annual priority Town Council meeting, started in 2019, we agreed that it is critical that storm water management stay at the top of the priority list for the years to come.
The work finally being done today was recognized as a high impact need that had been ignored for far too long. Our progress is just the beginning and must be built on to make actual headway for the future we have ahead of us.
I view the following actions as necessary to address storm water and public infrastructure threats and to provide real solutions:
1. Mapping. Knowing where the existing infrastructure, topography, accurate lot lines, water/sewer pipes, and correct parcel zones are is absolutely the first step to begin to tackle this issue. A Geographical Information Technician was budgeted for this year and hired last month to import the LIDAR (topography fly over imaging) that was done in 2019 and develop a 21st century GIS map that understands how drainage and infrastructure are positioned holistically in town. You cannot solve this problem in just one block or one corner, or you end up dumping it just further down the street. We must use technology to understand the entire issue across streets and sectors of town.
2. Set the Example. Education and demonstration is key to translating the problem and solutions to households. The Town needs to set an example of storm water management on its own properties and incentivize residents to do the same through the zoning ordinance. Rain gardens, rain barrels, native planting, pervious pavers, and living shorelines need to be common practice for the town and residents. Robin Grove Park received a $250,000 grant for implementing a living shoreline that will stabilize erosion and save our water tank infrastructure located there. Additionally, 1st Street has received a Green Streets Grant for designing a safe sidewalk to the school that incorporated storm water and tree plantings. The Town is also a partner in a tri-county grant for Tree Canopy to mitigate urban heat, erosion, and storm water. These projects are already currently awarded and under design phases to be implemented. We also need to look at the next steps for the end of Colonial Avenue, from Washington to the new Pedestrian Plaza. This dead end should have a next phase of design that includes a center median rain garden to both beautify the scenery to the boardwalk, slow down run-off and to assist in redesigning the traffic at the turn-around. All parking lots developed should meet our own parking design requirements with rain swales and where possible be made of pervious pavers that absorb rain water rather than asphalt and gravel.
3. Identify and acquire land necessary for storm water management ponds and retention areas. Using the FEMA floodplain and the new GIS data maps we are now producing will inform locations that are vital for conservation. Open space owned by the town that is already in a floodplain is identified for conservation but real issues also exist in the central district, the number streets, and the meadows. The Town needs to have the mapping in order to protect areas that are vital to providing space for these management areas.
4. Sell vacant property downtown, maximize tourism dollars, and create a development impact fee. Growth is a true challenge and needs to be considered at a responsible rate but also a population of only 3,500 is a hard stretch to make a tax base that will support making a dent in infrastructure costs that amount to the Millions. I am not in favor of raising taxes, so ultimately we need to raise our tax base and our tourism economy in smart ways. Our boardwalk has sat vacant for too long, and 80% of the sale of property goes to the capital improvement fund (10% to the school, 5% to Fire, and 5% to EMS), so the areas that are not needed for retention ponds and municipal services need to be sold and developed. Parking revenue has increased from $80K to more than $135K annually, We need to plan for replacing this revenue. The need for parking existing in the downtown we need to:
· Finish out the remaining lots we have to accommodate this.
· Improving the metering system with contactless 21st century equipment
· Add a development impact fee per new unit; our $6K connection fee is lower than Westmoreland and King George and does not suffice for the real impact new development has on our community
The boardwalk property is currently being negotiated to sell for a phase development that preserves the historical buildings, grows tourism, and adds residential.
5. Pursue state and regional assistance. Again, we do not have the population to pay for major infrastructure alone and we must build on partnerships and work collaboratively with the county and state to get the assistance we require to keep our community safe. Colonial Beach is currently the most active target community for the 2020 RAFT program (Resilience Adaptation Feasibility Tool). The program helps identify action items with a scorecard and then assists in developing plans to create a resilient community. This is specifically targeted for storm water and coastal management, although also involves identifying other threats (such a pandemic). The Coastal Policy Center, Disaster Mitigation Program, and Northern Neck Planning District are all identified partners to tackle these needs. This program is dedicated for 2020-2021 to integrate resiliency into our new Comprehensive Plan, build the GIS mapping, improve emergency services, and create a Resilience Committee to continue the work beyond the program year.
6. Be Responsible. Our staff needs to stay up to date on qualifications and training. We need to evaluate sewer/water rates annually to avoid the shortfalls and a rate hike which happened due to prior councils ignoring the problems. The Town needs to live within its means while continuing to make progress to the well-being of all citizens. In the last 2 years we have gone from an annual deficit to now a $430K surplus and again for 2021 created a fiscally conservative budget amid COVID concerns. We can still make improvements if we build on the goals and objectives we already have, stay focused on the bigger picture, and do not get side tracked into wasting time and money on individual agendas.