By Sharon Mager
DISTRICT HEIGHTS, Md.— Several Prince George’s County dignitaries showed up to celebrate a new partnership with Forestville New Redeemer Baptist Church (FNRBC) at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Oct. 8.
The church entered into a partnership with the county in obedience to God’s call for stewardship.
“It’s an auspicious, glorious day,” Dr. Nathaniel Thomas, pastor of FNRBC said in his opening remarks. “This project we have started here has become a model for the country. The White House is paying attention to what is taking place here,” Thomas said.
FNRBC is the first church to receive the county’s assistance in retrofitting their property to reduce and treat stormwater runoff from approximately 3.35acres under the county’s new Alternative Compliance Program (ACP). The county recently expanded their Clean Water Program (CWP) through the ACP offering substantial stormwater fee reduction credits and grants to qualified religious organizations and other 501(c) nonprofits. The ACP, In addition to cleansing water, will create thousands of new jobs and bolster the local economy.
The improvements at FNRBC are the first of several stormwater infrastructure projects to be unveiled throughout the county within the next year.
As a result of the partnership, at the county’s expense, several rain gardens have been installed in front of the church, and drainage pavers and sand were installed alongside the church. There is a new trench in the middle of the parking lot neatly covered with rocks, and the lot was graded slightly to allow run off to be channeled to the rain garden. More work is planned.
Greg Cannito, managing director of Corvis Solutions, who has been overseeing the contractual work for the partnership said that in addition to cleansing water the partnership will help small, local, minority and disadvantaged businesses, putting them on a sustainable career path.
Adam Ortiz, director of the county department of the environment, said over 50 percent of people living in Prince George’s County leave each morning to work outside the county—giving them less time to volunteer at church and other organizations, less time to spend with their families. And it’s less money being spent in the county. The partnership will help keep those workers in Prince George’s County.
The agreement wasn’t quick and easy. Thomas and other local pastors were very concerned about the fee, or “rain tax,” imposed on businesses and residents in 2013. The fee was in response to a federal mandate to help filter out the pollutants that end up in storm water runoff after it rains, which eventually end up in the Chesapeake Bay.
“We were polluting too much and needed to clean it up,” Ortiz explained. It was a huge project and county officials were brainstorming ways to best benefit the county. Ortiz said Derrick Davis, Vice-Chair, Prince George’s County Council Member-District 6, said, “Talk to the churches.”
Oritz smiled and shook his head when he shared about the first meetings with a group of pastors. Ortiz said he had a 30-minute slide show but didn’t get too far.
“We had our concerns,” Thomas admitted. Churches were placed in a category with other businesses. “We challenged that, yes we did. Because we wanted to make sure that the first amendment was always adhered to …in terms of our churches being able to be a free agent to do what we were led to do,” he said, adding that the work of the churches is ministering to the least, the lost and the forgotten and to look out for the poor. Thomas said that churches must be vigilant in protection of the first amendment and preventing “backdoor” taxes on churches that could set a very dangerous precedence.
But with discussion came trust and a plan that will benefit the church, the government, create jobs and build the economy. “We had the tremendous opportunity to sit down and listen to each other and find ways to work together,” Ortiz said.
Thomas said the meetings were positive. In the past, “bureaucrats,” generally said what was going to happen. Adam Ortiz did not do that. “We sat and dialoged weeks at a time in dealing with where we are today. I thank God for listening ears and open hearts and people who understand the church is an integral part in making a difference in everything that we do as a community.”
In the process of decision-making, Thomas, with pastors in the Collective Empowerment Group, and in the Prince George’s Baptist Association, took a tour of the Anacostia River with the Anacostia Water Shed Society. They saw the pollution first hand.
“We saw fish with sores, and yet, people are eating those fish.” Thomas was convinced to move forward.
Adam Ortiz said that after meeting with the pastors, he is convinced; churches are indeed special—they have a unique opportunity to educate and inspire people to be good stewards.
Thomas said in other areas, funds are being received from churches but those churches do not see the benefits. The partnership allows churches to see their money being used in ways that benefit the church in addition to the community.
Over 100 churches have signed up to participate in the Alternative Compliance program.
Roland Jones, director of Prince George’s County Office of Central Services said, “This could be the Silicon Valley in Maryland regarding storm water management.”