Environmental Planner Rob Savidge could be the closest thing to a real Whistleblower that Annapolis has seen. Below are the testimony he gave at last night’s City Council meeting, as well as his guest column reprinted from today’s paper:
The Lorax would be very upset with the city of Annapolis. I should know. I work in the city’s Department of Neighborhood and Environmental Programs. My duties include conducting environmental plan reviews for new developments and determining whether they comply with our forest and wetland protection laws.
Unfortunately, our resources are not being adequately protected. Annapolis has not fully adopted Maryland’s Forest Conservation Act. Because of this, we do not have a clear environmental review, approval or appeal process, or our own forest conservation technical manual, in violation of state Natural Resources Article § 5-1603. This has allowed many development projects (including Reserve at Quiet Waters, adjacent to the park) to navigate the environmental review process without properly applying the forest conservation laws. Every development that is or was subject to the FCA could be called into question and challenged in court.
The state Department of Natural Resources is at fault as well. It failed to properly approve the city’s FCA program and has offered only cursory reviews every other year. The FCA clearly lists what must be in a local program, so why hasn’t the DNR enforced this properly from day one?
I first tried to speak up about these programmatic failures around three years ago. Yet instead of investigating my concerns and taking them seriously, department leadership retaliated against me. They have even used my political affiliation with the Green Party to justify removing me from project reviews (such as Crystal Spring) — discrimination that is clearly against the law. Does this give you confidence in the city’s objectivity, or that projects like Crystal Spring will be given sufficient environmental reviews?
To further limit public transparency, department leadership proceeded to tell environmental review staff to avoid the state Public Information Act and to hide review comments from the public by not posting them online. They even placed gag orders on staff and told us we couldn’t communicate with our own citizen advisory boards, which the law requires we cooperate with. Yet where is the accountability for these transgressions, these violations of the public’s trust?
What we need is civil discourse on these development projects and their environmental impacts. That’s not going to come from a department that silences its own reviewers and inhibits transparency. And that will not happen, in the case of Crystal Spring, from developers that threaten litigation and use bullying tactics to get what they want. Reportedly, that development team even suppressed science by forcing a wetland scientist off the city’s volunteer Environmental Commission, by going to his employer, after he conducted an independent wetland assessment with permission from the city. They harassed city commissioners by submitting PIA requests for their personal emails and social media posts. They threaten to sue the city if we do not approve their latest submission. This behavior from the DNEP and the Crystal Spring developers is antithetical to civil, democratic discourse and should be rejected outright.
Annapolis should be a leader in Smart Growth development, ensuring that new developments protect our natural resources as the law requires. But instead, we are often dominated by interests who just want to maximize their bottom line at the expense of our environment, and by select city bureaucrats who desire control and regularity over visionary leadership and participatory democracy. This can be changed. We can bring these development projects into compliance with the law before a single tree is cut down or a single wetland destroyed. We can support ordinance O-32-14, sponsored by Mayor Michael Pantelides, Alderman Jared Littman and Alderman Ross Arnett, that would fix our forest laws and ensure that our public resources are protected and able to be enjoyed by future generations. Those are things that would make the Lorax proud.
Savidge works for the city and has over 12 years of experience as a Qualified Forest Professional with the DNR. He is a resident of the city and a longtime member of the Green Party. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.