, Gloucester, MA

September 23, 2013

Officials wary of state aid for water infrastructure

From Wire and Staff Reports
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — BOSTON — The Patrick administration would support adding additional spending to its $911 million, five-year environmental bond bill to repair aging water infrastructure systems, but likely could not accommodate the full $2 billion request being made by some lawmakers, a top Patrick administration official says.

Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Richard Sullivan said the “water cluster” has the potential to be a great source of economic development in Massachusetts, including jobs that will come from repairing and replacing water infrastructure systems and research and development around water, delivery, filtration and security.

“We are supportive, but the questions are around how big that number can be, how fast we can address the need which is there and how it fits into our bond cap,” Sullivan told the News Service.

Asked specifically about Rep. Carolyn Dykema’s proposal to authorize $2 billion in borrowing over the next 10 years, Sullivan said, “We probably can’t fit that much that fast.”

Dykema, who chaired a commission with Sen. Jamie Eldridge that identified a $21.4 billion long-term funding gap for drinking and clean water investments, called water the “forgotten infrastructure” as she highlighted major cost and safety concerns around the state from Worcester to Cape Cod.

Among the communities that continues to advance a large-scale water infrastructure is Gloucester, which carried out $2.5 million water pipe project this last summer to ease the flow of drinking water beneath the Annisquam River near Gloucester High School and the city’s Essex Avenue water treatment plant.

The installation of new 1,200-foot PVC, or polyvinyl chloride pipeline, is designed to resolve some of Gloucester’s notorious longtime water problems, and provide a measure of safety against further water man breaks along Stacy and Boulevard and elsewhere once the new line is in full service beginning next month.

“Water (infrastructure) has been deferred to another day, but today is another day,” Dykema said.

Her bill would make $2 billion available over the next 10 years, relying on municipalities to come up with their own resources based on an affordability formula. Gloucester has carried out more than $40 million in various water projects since the city’s aging system and a breakdown at the Babson water treatment plant spurred a state-ordered boil water order in the summer of 2009.

Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal to borrow and invest $911.5 million in land preservation, parks and clean energy over the next five years got its first public vetting before the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture on Tuesday, with lawmakers and environmentalists offering up a multitude of ideas of how and where to spend the large, but limited pool of money.

The legislation includes $312 million for an accelerated energy program, $124 million for land and parks, and $121 million to the Department of Conservation and Recreation for facilities and flooding control.

Patrick last week touted a new report showing 11.8 percent job growth over the past year in clean energy — a cluster the administration has sought to grow with its policies — with 80,000 now employed in Massachusetts.

Pacheco told Dykema and Eldridge at the hearing that he would like to have follow-up discussions with them about the best “vehicle” for addressing the water infrastructure issue. Senate President Therese Murray in January and again over the summer identified water system fixes as a top priority, though no proposal has emerged to date.

“Bond issues are a great vehicle for anyone with any idea to have their idea funded. The problem is they never see it materialize because not only do they have to have the authorization, but they have to have the funds released. It’s become political,” Pacheco said. “At the end of the day, we want a bond bill we can actually achieve.”

Pacheco also took issue with the administration’s proposal to direct $120 million over the next five years toward dam and seawall repair and replacements, questioning whether the money could be better spent on programs like the $250 million Clean Energy Investment Program to retrofit 700 public buildings for maximum energy efficiency that he said will pay for itself over time.

“Why wouldn’t we double or triple that amount and cut back on some of the other elements of the bond bill that are just expenditures that will not reinvest on cutting back on CO2 emissions and meeting the other goals.” Pacheco said.

Singling out seawalls, Pacheco called ocean flooding an “expensive problem” in coastal communities that won’t necessarily be resolved with seawalls.

“We’re spending taxpayer dollars on trying to have this tussle with Mother Nature,” he said. “But as we all know, those of who have studied this know, Mother Nature will win this tussle.”

Sullivan said the investments in dams and seawalls address just a portion of the need in alignment with a revolving $20 million trust fund created by the Legislature last year, to be divided evenly between dams and public seawalls. The inclusion of seawalls in the project came through a push from state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, whose district communities of Gloucester and Rockport are both dealing with seawall repair and maintenance issues.

He also said the bond bill was designed to fund programs across the secretariat, and the administration’s plans to upgrade the energy efficiency of 700 public buildings in 700 days would stretch resources thin already.

The Commonwealth Conservation Council recommended the committee strengthen Patrick’s bond bill by refining language and boosting investments to maximize land and water conservation, preserve agricultural resources, and address climate change and rising seas.

George Bachrach, of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, called for $27 million to be invested in solid waste disposal, including $7 million in unspent funds from a 2008 bond bill, to help cities and towns with the growing cost of shipping solid waste out of their communities.