Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Legislative Research in Connecticut Shows That By Declining to Put Money In the Clean Water Fund, Connecticut Legislature Threatens the Sound Cleanup

In the middle of September, after I published an op-ed piece in the Times weekend sections that blamed the Connecticut legislature for abandoning the cleanup of Long Island Sound, I got an e-mail from a fellow named Paul Frisman, a staffer with the Connecticut General Assembly's Office of Legislative Research, asking me a couple of not-hostile questions about my sources, which I happily answered.

Yesterday I found a report Frisman wrote on September 19, obviously in response to specific questions from legislators about the validity of my piece. The gist of my argument was this:

… just when efforts to save the Sound should be increasing, the Connecticut Legislature is doing the opposite. It is backing off its cleanup commitment by slashing money for sewage plant improvements. This is particularly distressing not just because of the ecological implications but because Connecticut had been the leader in the cleanup, surpassing both New York State and New York City.

Frisman’s research confirmed this:

According to William Hogan, of the Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) Bureau of Water Management, the average annual Clean Water Fund bond authorization was $ 47.9 million from 1987 to 2002. Hogan states that the legislature reduced this authorization by $18 million in 2003 and $60 million in 2004 …. According to the Office of Fiscal Analysis, however, the legislature reduced the FY 03 authorization by $ 16.8 million….

The legislature did not authorize any Clean Water Fund bonding in FY 05; it has authorized $20 million in each of the 2006 and 2007 fiscal years. This $20 million annual funding level is significantly less than the $144 million and $120 million DEP requested for FY 06 and 07, respectively. Hogan said DEP based its requests on the number of treatment plants that had completed the design phase of their projects and were ready for construction.

That last point is an important one. The DEP essentially ordered the treatment plant operators to upgrade their facilities, and promised to help them out with money, but the department was forced to renege when the legislature failed to come up with the funds.

Frisman then addresses the question of what it all means:

Q. Has the reduction in funding caused DEP to reduce its goals for nitrogen reduction in Long Island Sound?

No. According to Hogan, the state can still reach its goal of reducing nitrogen discharges from municipal sewage treatment plans by 64% by 2014 if it approves additional funding.

Note the qualifier: if it approves additional funding. That of course is the crux of the issue. The legislature has not approved additional funding. If it had, we wouldn't be having this discussion and Frisman would not have been asked to look into the validity of issue.

Frisman then takes on the question of whether the funding cuts have already had an effect. The answer is yes.

Variables affecting nitrogen levels in the sound include weather and sewage treatment plant construction. According to the Management Plan report, nitrogen loads in 2005 increased by more than 6,000 pounds a day over 2004 in large part because several New York City plants were taken off-line for construction of nitrogen removal upgrades. According to the Nitrogen Credit Advisory Board's 2005 Annual Report, 2005 also was the first time that Connecticut failed to meet the permitted discharge levels. According to the board, the permit limit for 2005 was 13,434 pounds per day, but the state's sewage treatment facilities discharged an average of 14,930 pounds per day. This was 1,496 pounds per day over the limit. According to the board, the failure to meet the 2005 discharge limits was caused both by higher than average rainfall and the failure to receive funding needed to complete treatment plant projects “at the rate originally assumed.”

Note again the last point: the failure to meet the 2005 discharge limits was caused both by higher than average rainfall and the failure to receive funding needed to complete treatment plant projects “at the rate originally assumed.”

And then there’s his all-important final section:

The advisory board report states that there is a $ 410 million backlog of projects that need to be funded by 2009, when the plants must reach 75% of the reduction required in 2014. The report states that “the 2006-07 Clean Water Fund budget as approved by the General Assembly and governor is inadequate to support progress in meeting the requirements of the TMDL. ”

At the $ 20 million funding level, it said, “only one in five projects ready to proceed will be funded in FY 06 and only one in seven in FY 07. ”

“The ability to achieve further progress towards meeting a continually decreasing permit limit…becomes more difficult as projects are delayed or not built at all due to a lack of funding assistance,” the report said. But it states that this trend can be reversed if projects are funded and completed in future years.

The report notes that there were 29 facilities waiting to be funded as of May, 2006. According to DEP's funding priority list, 12 of these projects, with an estimated project cost of $ 107 million, would be partially funded. Work on the remaining 17 projects and the non-funded portion of three projects cannot proceed because of the limited funding. But the report says these projects must be built to meet the August 2009 discharge limit.

“Projects that are in design today will require two to three years to complete construction and achieve nitrogen removal operation,” the report says. “Given that the 2009 TMDL nitrogen reduction limit is less than four years away, it is imperative that the 17 projects be funded in the next 12 to 18 months.”

Coincidentally, I got an e-mail this morning from Terry Backer, who is both the Soundkeeper and a member of the General Assembly, representing Stratford. It was Terry who organized the boat ride last month that resulted in support for additional Clean Water Funding from three other Connecticut legislators. Here’s what Terry wrote:


Yesterday was the ground breaking for the upgrade of the Stratford Sewage Treatment Plant.

It’s a 62 million dollar project that will take 30 months to complete. It’s an 80% loan and 20% grant project. Among other improvements to process, it will be a real nitrogen reduction plant --however the crew there did a good job with the antiquated equipment they had.. not so of some of its neighbors.

You may recall that I testified at the DEP hearing regarding funding priorities last winter. The legislature's failure to adequately fund the Clean Water Fund came home to roost. Milford has two plants that discharge two miles upstream from where the Stratford plant discharges. Because of limited funding, DEP had to create a priority list based on where a town was in its planning, bidding process and performance Stratford with a much older plant than those in Milford edged them out by a point of two. Political pressure rose from the Milford side because delays cost big money in inflation. Jim Miron, the Mayor of Stratford, and I proposed to DEP that they fund all the plants since not all the money gets spent any given year. Also given that it’s the same receiving waters in the Housatonic river it was logical to try to make the improvements all at one time..That's what happened.

So here is where it leaves us, the project has been started but the out-year funding is not in place ..We got the ball rolling but we need to make sure the funding is there when the projects catch up to the spending. I'll keep working on it.



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