CG/LA Infrastructure's InfraBlog
By Colleen Quinn
Posted Aug 06, 2013 @ 04:21 PM
Lawmakers are talking about ways to find more money for cities and towns to fix aging water infrastructure, and expect to introduce a finance package proposal in September.
Now that a $500 million tax law is in place to pay for transportation infrastructure, addressing the state’s water needs is likely next on the list, according to lawmakers and an official from the trust fund that oversees clean water and drinking water projects.
Sen. James Eldridge, a Democrat from Acton, said he is working with Senate President Therese Murray’s office on a water infrastructure legislative package that will be introduced in the fall.
“That is something I am spending a lot of time on this summer,” Eldridge told the News Service.
While Senate leaders have been more vocal on the issue, it’s on the minds of House members as well.
Rep. James Cantwell (D-Marshfield) said he expects the Legislature to move the issue forward. “We certainly are going to see, I think, some legislative action,” he told the News Service.
Cantwell said every community in the state is faced with aging water infrastructure, and many have already made investments. “We want to make sure whatever we are doing this fall we do something to protect those investments,” he said.
Eldridge said he could not provide any details about the upcoming legislative proposal.
In a speech after she was reelected Senate president in January, Murray identified unmet water infrastructure needs as a top priority this legislative session. While water infrastructure has not grabbed the spotlight in the way that transportation policy has this year, its supporters highlight major economic and environmental implications.
Lawmakers last year identified a $21.4 billion long-term funding gap for drinking and clean water investments.
Susan Perez, executive director of Water Pollution Abatement Trust Fund, told the News Service she expects the Legislature to address the issue this fall.
During an oversight hearing Tuesday, Rep. Antonio Cabral (D-New Bedford), who chairs the House Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets, said he would like to see the trust establish a separate fund – one not subject to federal restrictions – to give communities targeted grants for water infrastructure projects.
Eldridge said creating a separate fund is under consideration.
The idea was one of the recommendations of the Water Infrastructure Finance Commission, co-chaired by Eldridge and Rep. Carolyn Dykema (D-Holliston), which looked for two years at the issues surrounding the state’s aging water system. The fund would encourage communities to adopt innovative ways to treat water, he said.
“That is probably the biggest recommendation. Is it time for a separate fund that would allow the commonwealth to focus on innovation, as well as regionalization?” Eldridge said.
“Should the state, through the power of purse strings, should it require towns and cities and regions do what are called decentralized treatment of water?” he said.
Working with the state Department of Environmental Protection, the Water Pollution Abatement Trust Fund finances approximately 100 projects each year.
In 2013, the fund will finance approximately $512.3 million in projects across the state after receiving applications for projections totaling more than $1.5 billion.
The Trust Fund, established through a federal grant during the Reagan administration, provides low-interest loans to cities and towns through the sale of bonds financed by using federal and state grants as capital. The fund has a AAA bond rating, according to Perez.
Perez said one of the suggestions from fund officials would be to offer communities loans, with some portion of the principal being forgiven.
Taken from Wicked Local: http://www.wickedlocal.com/gloucester/news/x1465127716/In-wake-of-transportation-debate-water-infrastructure-bill-in-works