November 22, 2022

Alumnus Adam Ortiz '96 Wants Mid-Atlantic States to Become Climate-Conscious and Resilient

Seventeen years ago, Adam Ortiz '96 became mayor of a small Maryland town just before years of epic flooding. Now, he sees himself as part of a generation of public leaders who've survived a climate trial by fire and embrace the need to forge lasting partnerships with communities.


On a gray day in early fall, Adam Ortiz stepped out of La Fondita restaurant for a stroll along Decatur Street, the main thoroughfare that runs through this working-class town tucked away in the northwest corner of Prince George’s County in the Washington suburbs. 

Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency’s  Mid-Atlantic Region, Ortiz’ career over the last two decades meanders through this close-knit community of some 1,600 people and a dozen or so roads peppered with ranch-style homes spread out along both sides of the main street.

“I became the mayor in June of 2005. In July that year, the town suffered a terrible flood. It was real time emergency management, evacuation, finding homes and supplies for people and then working to get the water out,” said Ortiz, who now lives in neighboring Hyattsville, Maryland, a short drive away.  

The floods tore through the town for four consecutive years, thrusting Ortiz into the new age of climate awareness and giving him a crash course in disaster management. “The equivalent of a 100-year flood event happened four years in a row and this neighborhood was hit the hardest, and almost 60 homes were underwater,” Ortiz said, pointing at the rows of houses on each side of Decatur Street. “This was sort of ground zero for the floods.”

The sudden screeching of tires interrupted the calm, and Ortiz hurried towards the middle of the road, where a dog came running with a leash dragging behind and no owner in sight. Amid the ruckus, one of the residents in a nearby house appeared on his porch and saw Ortiz. Both men greeted and inquired after each other, wondering who the owner was just as the dog strayed further away on a side street. “I’ll hail a police car if I see one and let them know about the dog,” Ortiz told the elderly neighbor before walking away.      

“That was Mr. Frank who lived here for decades. During the flooding, his house was badly impacted,” Ortiz explained a minute later, adding that as the mayor he knew each and every person in town. 

“This house right here was like an aquarium, and we had to rescue the woman and her son who lived here by boat,” Ortiz said, pointing to a vintage style bungalow behind him. “The whole area was waist deep in water. It was bad.”

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