In 2004, with the guidance and encouragement of then-Chairman Gerry Connolly, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted its first ever “Environmental Excellence” 20-year Vision Plan. The plan was organized into six areas, including growth and land use, air quality and transportation, water quality, solid waste, parks/trails/open space, and environmental stewardship, and centered on two important principles: 1) conservation of our natural resources must be interwoven into all government decisions, and 2) we must be committed to provide the necessary resources to protect our environment. At the same time, the Board recognized that none of the recommendations were likely to be adopted overnight, and that some legislative changes, budgetary decisions, and new staff approaches to implementation, might be necessary. That was 2004.
By October of 2015, we were 11 years into the 20-year vision, and I asked the Board to consider updating the plan. Much of the plan (which had been revised once in 2007 to reflect participation in the Cool Counties initiative) still was rock solid, and working, but it was time to review the plan for potential updates, taking into consideration new techniques and opportunities, as well as looking at how far we had come. In those 11 years, significant shifts were made. The Board adopted a stormwater ordinance and utility fee, signed a new agreement with Covanta, operator of our waste-to-energy plant, partnered with the Park Authority on stewardship of our open spaces, and made incredible changes in the way we approach land use decisions. Additionally, Chairman Bulova convened the first ever Private Energy Task Force to explore how business and local government can work together to identify new energy technologies that might be useable and useful in this region.
A Steering Committee of senior staff from several county departments was developed, along with Technical Teams of subject matter experts, and a Coordinating Team that helped bridge the two. Public comment was engaged via online surveys and countywide community meetings, with more than 600 comments received from Chambers of Commerce and business entities, homeowner associations and environmental groups, utility companies, and others. Many of the comments focused on climate change and energy, and a new section is included in the updated Environmental Vision, which was adopted by a vote of 9 to 0 (Supervisor Pat Herrity absent from the vote) by the Board on Tuesday.
The updated Environmental Vision, like the original, is not a set of specific actions, but sets the framework for identification and implementation of activities needed to achieve the visions and supporting objectives. As Chairman Bulova noted in the preface to the document, “no matter what income, age, gender, ethnicity, or address, everyone has a need and right to breathe clean air, to drink clean water, and to live and work in a quality environment.” I was pleased to move the adoption of the 2004 Vision Plan, and equally proud to move the updated version. A generation from now, Fairfax County residents will be able to look back and appreciate the very important and sustainable environmental actions taken by their local elected leaders.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]