Maryland gubernatorial candidate Krish Vignarajah on Thursday inspected the wreckage of the deadly flash flood that destroyed Ellicott City last month and laid out an ambitious plan to try to prevent another disaster.
Vignarajah, a former policy director for First Lady Michelle Obama, is proposing the creation of a $350 million “Community Resilience Revolving Fund” that would provide low-interest loans and grants to communities to implement flood abatement projects.
The fund would prioritize restoring forests, wetlands, and vegetated stream buffers to help mitigate runoff during heavy rain. It would be paid for through private environmental impact bonds and other revenue sources.
Engineers have determined that $85 million in infrastructure projects are needed to help make Ellicott City safer from flooding. For the second time in less than two years, a rapid river of stormwater runoff ripped through Main Street in May, damaging dozens of businesses and cars and killing Sgt. Eddison “Eddie” A. Hermond, a National Guardsman who tried to rescue a local shop owner.
“Restoring Maryland’s natural defenses, like wetland and forests is key to reducing flood damage but also address our broader environmental priorities like cleaning up the Bay and leading on climate change,” Vignarajah said.
As early voting in Maryland’s gubernatorial primary election goes under way this week, Vignarajah was among several Democratic candidates for governor releasing new or updated policy plans in the crowded race to challenge Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in the fall.
This week, Maryland State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno proposed a $5 billion school construction plan, modeled off the $1 billion initiative that is renovating and building new schools in Baltimore City. Under the proposal, the state would partner with local governments to float bonds to finance massive new infrastructure for schools.
Many school buildings across Maryland are in poor shape, state records show. Just 17 percent of school buildings in Baltimore and 47 percent in Prince George’s County are rated in “good” condition.
“Without this sort of direct, immediate infusion of money it will be more than a generation to replace and expand the schools that young people need today,” Madaleno said.
Also on Thursday, lawyer Jim Shea released a public safety plan in which he pledged to end the “war on drugs” and fund anti-gun intervention programs like CeaseFire and Safe Streets.
As the city of Baltimore has struggled with more than 300 homicides for three years in row, Shea said he and his running mate Brandon Scott, who is chairman of the Baltimore City Council’s public safety committee, are the ticket in the best position to curb the killings.
“We must implement community-focused crime fighting strategies and public health-based crime reduction programs to end the violence,” Shea wrote.
Also this week, former NAACP president Ben Jealous released a plan he said would boost the state’s economy.
He proposed prohibiting companies from asking about applicants’ criminal histories and increasing the minimum wage. He also proposed improving public transit to shorten workers’ commutes, expanding high-speed internet and offering government jobs to people who can’t find private employment.