Paying for climate change, Anne Arundel and Annapolis join forces to create ‘resilience authority’

Anne Arundel County and Annapolis governments are moving to set up a “resilience authority,” hoping to attract money to prepare for hotter and longer heatwaves, more stormwater runoff and a rising sea brought on by climate change.

County Council Chair Sarah Lacey, D-Jessup, introduced a bill creating the quasi-governmental body Monday on behalf of County Executive Steuart Pittman. If the legislation and Pittman’s budget are approved this spring, the county will pitch in $500,000 in start-up money to staff the authority.


Annapolis and Anne Arundel have considered the idea for years. Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley plans to introduce nearly identical legislation at the City Council meeting Monday.

“We really want to position Anne Arundel County to thrive in the future,” said Chris Trumbauer, county budget officer. “Does that mean we want to protect our shorelines from sea level rise? Sure, it does. Does it also mean people who live inland along streams are protected? Yeah.”


Buckley, Pittman and other local officials have acknowledged the city and county on their own do not have the financial capacity to pay for the infrastructure projects needed to brace the region for climate-related shifts in the coming decades.

The county has 533 miles of coast and several vulnerable peninsulas, including the downtown Annapolis area, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts will take on nearly a foot of water in the next 20 years, even in the most conservative estimations.

Annapolis already has set plans in motion to redevelop the downtown City Dock area to make it less flood-prone. If the council approves the resilience authority, the project will be among the first the body figures out how to finance.

The city has contracted with a consortium of private firms to redevelop Hillman Garage, which is several years past its useful life. The firms will operate the garage and generate revenue from it, but pay the city a “concession payment” in return. That payment will go toward the redevelopment of City Dock, said Eileen Fogarty, co-chair of the city’s City Dock Action Committee.

“The other major aspect of it is to come from the resilience authority,” Fogarty said.

But the area could also be vulnerable to stronger hurricanes, heavier rain and snowstorms and hotter heat during the summer months. The county doesn’t have the infrastructure to keep people cool and indoors for months-long heatwaves, Trumbauer said. Its parks don’t have cooling shelters or sprinklers that would allow for recreation in sustained high-90-degree temperatures.

“One of the things we’re being very deliberate to message is that this isn’t just about sea-level rise,” he said. “This is as much about making sure cars that park in the long-term parking at the airport don’t flood while people are on vacation as it is about making sure Shady Side isn’t underwater.”

Curtis Point on Shady Side Peninsula looking west/south-west. Annapolis and Anne Arundel have introduced legislation to create a resilience authority, a quasi-governmental body that would be able to raise the money to take on projects that the city and county cant afford but need to fend off the worst effects of climate change. One of the areas predicted to be hardest hit is the Shady Side peninsula, which is low-lying and likely to flood in the next few decades.

County Councilmembers have fretted over these vulnerabilities in their districts, they said.


Councilman Andrew Pruski, D-Gambrills, and Councilwoman Alison Pickard, D-Millersville, both represent districts with older infrastructure not built to handle the amount of stormwater falling on the region and running toward their neighborhoods. Pruski pointed to road closures and flooded basements as neighborhood-level problems already manifesting in the county.

In Pickard’s district, the county is in the process of tearing out a large concrete culvert and returning it to a natural state.

“That was a large, expensive project a resilience authority could help execute in an efficient and economical way,” she said.

Councilwoman Jessica Haire, R-Edgewater, represents Shady Side and has concerns about the communities on that peninsula and those across the West River in Mayo. Both are just feet above sea level.

But she has questions about the necessity for the authority and how it will raise money.

“There’s some ambiguity around the authority’s ability to raise capital and how they might go about doing that,” Haire said. “Whether this authority has the ability to impose fees essentially without council approval, or even with council approval, that’s one piece that’s been on my mind to take a look at.”


Haire’s colleague Councilwoman Amanda Feidler, R-Arnold, hears concerns from her constituents who want to protect the Arnold and Cape St. Claire peninsula beaches and shorelines from erosion. But she shares Haire’s questions about the reach of a new governmental body.

“My initial reaction, in a vacuum, the seed money of $500,000 is not too much of a big deal,” she said, “but if you look back on the last two budgets, each year we’re adding more and more to various departments. I’m a little concerned about how top-heavy we’re getting.”

The county and city have already taken on construction projects through more traditional public-private partnerships and funded projects, such as the Severn Intergenerational Center, outside the traditional capital budget process, but neither have a long history of funding large infrastructure needs with private partners.

The Pittman administration doesn’t want to saddle an existing department or quasi-governmental arm like Arundel Community Development Services with an additional mandate, Trumbauer said.

The legislation as introduced allows the new body to charge and collect fees for its services, apply for grants, issue and sell bonds and seek private investment to pay for projects. The authority can use approved county funds or traditional municipal bonds, Trumbauer said, but the administration envisions the authority as a body that can leverage the expertise of people who know how to finance environmental projects and attract private investment to do it.

Pittman would appoint an executive director and nine of the 12 board members to oversee the new body. Buckley would appoint the other three.


Pruski believes the council should have the final say on what projects the authority takes on and how those are financed. There’s a need for “circuit breakers,” he said, to ensure accountability to elected officials and the public.

Charles County is the first to take advantage of state legislation passed in 2020 that enables local governments to incorporate this kind of structure.

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For years, the model of resilience financing was in Newport, Rhode Island, which set up its own resilience authority in 2016. Dubbed the Newport Project Development Company, it was to take on eight ambitious projects to ensure Newport could survive a climate disaster, including building a micro-electric grid, developing urban greenhouses and perhaps most important, realigning the Pell Bridge into and out of the city.

In doing so, the city hoped to open up 60 acres of land to create an Innovation District, where researchers, non-profits and private companies alike will be able to test their climate change solutions and drive a resilience-based economy.

The body, however, was a consortium of private companies and firms that fell to infighting and lawsuits over control of the authority, according to The Newport Daily News. The city cut ties with the company in late 2019.

The city government hasn’t abandoned the resilience projects, rather brought them within existing departments, said Newport spokesman Tom Shevlin. The Rhode Island state government stepped in to assist with the bridge project. The city recently approved an urban plan to dictate development n the North End, where it still envisions an innovation hub focused on resilient technology.


“When we approached the North End Urban Plan,” Shevlin said, “we did it in a way that allowed for greater collaboration between private development and the city.”

The authority Annapolis and Anne Arundel County envision will be different from the now-defunct Newport company in that it’s housed within county government and accountable to the county executive.

“I would expect the concept we have in mind will be a little bit different than that,” Trumbauer said of Newport. “But we’ll be starting ours up with whatever successes and failures in mind and look to learn from what failed.”