by Stephanie Smith
May 03, 2016
Local governments are playing a pivotal role in the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay: managing stormwater runoff, promoting low-impact development, upgrading wastewater treatment plants and more. We spoke with District of Columbia Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, recently-elected Chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC), to learn about her background in local government work and hear her perspective on the importance of local engagement.
Chesapeake Bay Program: Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and the work that you do.
D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau: I grew up in Michigan, on the Great Lakes. I grew up in an environmentalist family, and I’ve always really been drawn to areas near water, so it’s a natural path to the work in the Bay. For about six years I worked for Congressman John Sarbanes, and got to work with a team that works on the Bay back then, so this is a little bit like coming back home.
CBP: What led you to go into local government work?
BN: I had always been involved in this type of activity—I was a Girl Scout from a young age, all the way through the Gold Award. I did that for 13 years. But I actually got involved in local politics at age 11, on a school board race, and I stayed involved until now. When I first moved to the District of Columbia in 2002, I started getting to know the neighborhoods and civic associations, and by 2006 I had already run for an advisory neighborhood commissioner spot. I was able to do that for two terms before taking a little break and regrouping to do this.
For me, it’s always been this core value of looking for work and wanting to leave things better than I found them—which is the Girl Scout way—and that coupled with my interest in environmentalism has really been a great way to tie all this together for LGAC.
CBP: What’s your favorite part of this type of work, or a favorite memory you have?
BN: I consider myself sort of a stormwater runoff nerd, so when the District of Columbia was having a conversation around the cisterns that we have to build for our combined sewer system, and the community conversations around that, that was actually really exciting for me—although most people would probably find that kind of boring.
Back when I was working in the Maryland delegation, we did a lot of work on environmental education—that was Congressman Sarbanes’ big thing, his environmental education bill—and so we got to work on what we called the watershed cards. He had one card for each congressional district that he could pass out to his colleagues and show them how their district relates to the Bay. That was actually a very cool project; I spent a lot of time on it and I think it had an impact.
CBP: How do you see local governments playing a role in the Bay restoration effort?
BN: Local governments are the ones who are really going to be implementing all of this. As we move through the different stages of the Watershed Implementation Plans, local governments not only are providing input, but also learning what their role has to be in terms of implementation. I think there’s a lot of education that we have to do.
LGAC is really focused on this two-way communication, and constantly reminding the Executive Council that we’re here, that we want to be in the loop, that we want to have input and also simply providing that input. As a former advisory neighborhood commissioner and now a councilmember, I’m definitely in the habit of reminding people about local voices.
CBP: Describe how you got involved with LGAC.
BN: I’m a mayoral appointee to LGAC, so I began my term last year when I was a new councilmember in the District of Columbia. It’s been smooth sailing since then. I’ve just jumped in and tried to read everything I could find about all the work that we’re doing, and I’m building relationships with all of the members and CAC [the Bay Program’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee] as well.
CBP: What are you looking forward to about where LGAC is going?
BN: I’m just excited that this is such a pivotal time in the Watershed Implementation Plans. To be the chair of LGAC now is a great opportunity just to ensure that those local voices are being heard.
CBP: Has anything surprised you about working with LGAC so far?
BN: It may not be surprising, but it’s definitely important to note how much information we still need to get out there to our local governments. And that isn’t only the role of LGAC, of course; the states and the federal government have to do that with us. But we have a lot to teach folks about their role. It’s a big job.
CBP: What do you see as the top priorities for LGAC?
BN: My number one priority is to ensure that LGAC’s voice is heard throughout the Midpoint Assessment and the Phase III WIPs. Those are the two big things we’re focused on this year, and really just not missing a single opportunity to provide input.
CBP: Is there anything else you want to add?
BN: Local governments are the ones who are going to be the on the ground implementers of these plans, so we have to make sure we give them the resources and assistance they need to get it done.
CBP: And finally, what does the Chesapeake Bay mean to you?
BN: The Chesapeake Bay is a place for recreation, a place for commerce, a place for us to enjoy the ecosystem. But for me, I think the most important thing is that it’s a place that generations after us will have to enjoy.