DPW Commissioner Blasts ‘Voracious Appetite’ of EPA ‘Beast’
Saturday, January 19, 2013
The high price tag accompanying the unfunded mandates puts Worcester officials in the tricky position of trying to balance necessary system improvements with federally required projects, all without placing an inordinate burden on ratepayers, who are the primary source of funding for the City's enterprise operation.
"What gets done and what continues to wait? Which projects provide meaningful environmental benefit and which do not? How do we most effectively use ratepayer's ability and willingness to pay?" Moylan asked.
"These questions need to be thoughtfully considered and seriously debated because the course that we are on now, trying to satisfy the voracious appetite of the Federal beast called EPA, will not leave any funding to allow the city to make its own self-directed improvements that the community desires."
Moylan outlined a list of 18 water and sewer projects for the next five years, some of which fall under EPA mandates and must be undertaken and others which are discretionary but would be beneficial to the City and ratepayers.
All told, the mandated projects would cost Worcester an estimated $1.19 billion, compared to the discretionary projects, which would total just $79.27 million.
One of those discretionary projects involves the rehabilitation of a 48-inch water main, the largest in the city. Moylan said the project has been deferred in the past due to cost and complexity and that the postponement of work on the main, one of the few large ones in Worcester yet to be rehabilitated, presented an additional challenge when Worcester battled a massive water main break in November of 2012 that led to water being shut off for the entire city.
"Valves near the break that would have been used to shut down the main and isolate the break were difficult to operate or inoperable," he said. "This water main rehabilitation project would include cleaning and cement lining the largest mains, replacing other side street mains, and replacing old valves.
At $4.1 million, the rehabilitation project is not exactly cheap, but it pales in comparison to some of the EPA-mandated projects.
The Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District is currently appealing the mandated compliance with a discharge permit that would cost an estimated $208 million, $177 million of which would come from Worcester's ratepayers.
According to Moylan, the City is appealing the upgrade because it would increase the average household sewer cost by $250 per year, and the most recent research models show no substantial improvement even if the City were in comply with the permit.
However, the biggest mandated project by far will be Worcester's EPA stormwater permit. The City has yet to receive the permit from the EPA, but Moylan said an earlier draft "contained language and requirements that were so onerous that the compliance costs over the 5-year life of the Permit were estimated by our consultant to be approximately $1 billion, a truly staggering sum."
He said the EPA has contested those estimates, but Moylan stuck by the estimated $950 million bill, which would be footed entirely by Worcester's ratepayers since there are no grant programs or financial assistance components in the Clean Water Act.
"The needs are great and as Commissioner Moylan states represent opportunities and challenges," said City Manager Michael O'Brien in a letter to the City Council. "This report is meant to provide you and the community with perspective on the enormity of this challenge and the continued uphill battle we face when it comes to unfunded mandates and funding of these critical infrastructure needs."
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