EDMONSTON – The seven blocks of Decatur Street running through the heart of Edmonston took center stage Thursday at a House subcommittee hearing, as the mayor described its recent transformation into an eco-friendly zone where rain gardens and trees filter pollutants from storm water runoff.
“We’ve been told that Edmonston has the greenest street in the United States,” Mayor Adam Ortiz told Congress. “I’m not sure if that’s true, but I’m proud that we are at least in the running.”
Edmonston, in Prince George’s County, with roughly 1,300 people, is not a wealthy town with a large tax base, Ortiz said. It’s a “small, working class town,” and very racially diverse, he added.
“If our little town can build a responsible, sustainable street like this, anybody can and everybody should.”
Ortiz was among seven people to testify at a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment, chaired by Rep. Donna F. Edwards, D-Fort Washington.
Others testifying included representatives from the business community, the National Association of Flood and Stormwater Management Agencies and the National Association of Home Builders.
The House subcommittee is considering two bills, both of which would provide funds for green infrastructure projects like Decatur Street.
The revamped street — which is nearly complete and will be dedicated on Oct. 25 — doesn’t make use of fancy technologies or pricy green products. Instead, small garden plots and tree boxes are being planted along the street “to naturally filter the water into the ground, mimicking the way it was in the age before strip malls,” Ortiz said.
Edmonston has flooded four times in the past decade, Ortiz added. The flooding was not from the Anacostia River — over which Decatur Street passes — but from storm-water runoff from “parking lots…highways, roads, shopping centers, roofs,” Ortiz said.
The gardens and trees planted so far have already “reduced the amount of water going through the system, and (have) reduced water in certain parts of town,” Ortiz said in a later interview.
Other green improvements to Decatur Street include energy-efficient street lights powered by clean wind energy purchased from the Midwest, bike lanes and wide sidewalks “to promote community interaction, health and wellness,” Ortiz said.
The project cost $1.3 million, 90 percent of which was covered by grants.
Operating costs are low, consisting “primarily (of) pulling weeds in the rain gardens and tree boxes,” Ortiz said.
The town will spend $3,000 a year for weeding and other maintenance activities, Ortiz said in response to a question from Rep. John Boozman, R-Ark., at the hearing.
A number of organizations have helped Edmonston achieve its green goals, including the Chesapeake Bay Trust, which provided an initial $25,000 grant and assistance applying for and administering $1.1 million in stimulus funds, says Jana Davis, the Trust’s associate executive director and chief scientist.
Edmonston is a “stewardship community,” Davis said in an interview, because it thinks about energy issues, environmental livability and its impact on the watershed.
Other partners in the Decatur Street project include the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency, Davis said.
Initial concepts — the rain gardens, tree boxes, and street and sidewalk redesigns — were developed by the Low Impact Development Center, a local nonprofit group that helps communities “develop strategies … for integrating green and sustainable techniques” into their surroundings, said Executive Director Neil Weinstein.
“Instead of a grand boulevard … we integrated more functional elements, to make it as cost-effective as possible,” Weinstein says.
And “we involved the community (in the design process) so that they would want to take care of the street” when it is completed, Weinstein adds.
The Design Center passed on the plans to the town’s engineers, who implemented them. The goal was to empower Edmonston’s citizens to keep their street green, clean and free of floods.
Residents have “pretty much rallied around” the greening project, Weinstein said.
“We … realized that a street is really much more than a place for cars to get somewhere,” Ortiz said at the hearing.
“Streets are public spaces. They belong to the neighborhood, just like a community center or park.”
Decatur Street businesswoman Eloisa Guvman, who owns La Fondita restaurant near the bridge over the Anacostia River, agreed.
“They fixed the street, so more people can walk — it’s better now,” she says.
And with more people out and about along Decatur Street, Guvman is hopeful that more people will come to eat at her restaurant.
“It benefits me a little bit.”