June 15 2011 Minutes

Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Water Infrastructure Finance Commission Meeting
FINAL Minutes June 15 2011

In a meeting duly posted, the Massachusetts Water Infrastructure Finance Commission convened at ten am on June 15, 2011 in the Senate Reading Room at the State House.

Members Attending:

Senator Jamie Eldridge, Representative Carolyn Dykema, Bruce Tobey, Thomas Walsh, William Callahan, David Terry (DEP Commissioner’s designee), Martin Pillsbury; Jennifer Pederson for the MWWA; Becky Smith; Thomas Tilas; David Riedell, Philip Jassett; Robert Zimmerman


Representative Paul Schmid, Nate Keenan (WPAT); Ann Rhinelander; Leah Robins, Sally Schnitzer; Marianne Connolly (MWRA), John Clarkeson (EOEEA);  Mike Morris (MWRA); Valerie Nelson, Tom Philbin (MMA), Jim Shaer;

Senator Eldridge called the meeting to order.

The Senator asked if there were any comments on the Minutes from the April 12 meeting.  Ms. Rhinelander asked if the minutes could be changed to reflect more details on what was contained in the notebook submitted by “Who Decides”. The Commission did not move to change the minutes.  The minutes were approved with no changes.

Senator Eldridge stated that the primary purpose of today’s meeting was to address the DRAFT interim report.  The Senator stated that he wanted to stress that the draft was prepared by his staff, and does not yet have the vote of the Commission.  It is a discussion draft to begin our conversation.

Mr. Tilas asked how the Legislature would receive the Interim Report.   Would it be likely that any Joint Committee would review the document, or ask us for testimony on it?  Senator Eldridge specified that this was an opportunity to update his colleagues on the progress of the Commission’s work.

Each Commissioner present then indicated his thoughts on the staff draft.

Mr. Tobey stated that the document did a nice job as a placeholder for the full report in the fall.  It provides a good framework for us to fill in.  There is plenty of room for our final recommendations.   Mr. Tobey noted that he could nitpick some language here and there, or wordsmith, but that is not needed. Looking at the charge that set up the Commission, Mr. Tobey noted that the “Blue Act” ideas will be very central, and we need to get that done and find consensus.

Mr. Reidell indicated that he would echo Mr. Tobey’s comments.  He also stated that he has enjoyed his service as the Treasurer’s representative on the Commission, but a new head of the Water Pollution Abatement Trust has been appointed, and so he will no longer be attending the meetings.

Ms. Pederson spoke in the place of Mr. Michael Martin, who is on active duty and unable to attend today’s meeting.  From a water supply perspective, there are several notes to make about the draft.  First, consider adding in DEP’s numbers on compliance, and make the point that Massachusetts water suppliers meet the highest standards in supplying a clean and plentiful supply of water. In the section on educating the public, make sure that the effort is statewide, and not left to individual districts and towns. In the final (Fall) report, be sure to use the information on rate structures that was developed by Working Group Two.  Require a cost/benefit on new environmental regulation.

Mr. Callahan noted that the draft interim report is silent on the Needs Analysis.  While we don’t have numbers yet, we need to identify what we know from the EPA needs analyses and outline our methodology.  This should be added to the introduction.   Second, the tone needs to be more balanced.  The draft comes down unfairly on centralized systems, with the implication that innovation is not compatible.  The bottom line is that they are complementary.  We need to better acknowledge the past successes of treatment, and then speak of the potential for complementary, holistic , innovative solutions moving forward and building on what we have.  New technology and centralized systems are not mutally exclusive; big systems will not be replace.

Mr. Tilas believes the interim report should direct EOEEA to assist in funding the Needs Analysis.  Our numbers based on existing data will be very defensible, but additional surveying would be very valuable. He also pointed out that the blanket statement about rates being inadequate is probably inaccurate.  Some towns already have high rates.  Speak to the diversity of the situation.  He also noted that the draft doesn’t state strongly enough that the state and federal governments have a responsibility to support water infrastructure improvements, especially due to environmental regulations, through financial assistance.   He suggests the title of the report be:  Toward Affordability.  He also suggests adding “affordable” to the section on economic vitality.

Mr. Pillsbury stated that the draft was a great job.  He would like to see the report address regulatory drivers with a little more emphasis on the MS4 being very new and very unfunded.  He also agreed that more should be included on the Needs analysis.  And, perhaps at this point we should make just one recommendation; that being the need for a higher level of detail on the Needs Analysis.

Mr. Zimmerman stated that the draft does a good job of giving us a jumping off point for the final report.  He would add the point that the water, stormwater, and wastewater portions of the problem are often viewed as independent silos, while solutions may derive from thinking more holistically; integrating these issues. Also, he would like tosee a careful review of current regulations and likely consequences.

Mr. Terry liked the structure of the draft.  He agreed that the gap analysis needs to be included.

Mr. Walsh had some concerns with the balance of the report.  He tried some redrafting to soften the language regarding centralized systems, and would like to try again.  He thinks the title should be Towards Financial Sustainability.  He agrees with a need to put something in the Needs Analysis section.  Get a number out there, or at least a range.  Also, the report should put more emphasis on planning.  He will send along some comments about possible changes in Washington to the Clean Water Act.

Mr. Jasset feels that the language on centralized systems causing environmental harm need to be softened.  He also spoke in favor of having a full day meeting to discuss the report in greater detail.  We heard the problem:  communities have lots of needs and they have no money.  Report doesn’t adequately mention the Pennsylvania Report or the issue of primacy.  He advocates delay in filing the report.  Mr. Jasset also wanted the report to specifically mention the issue of debt relief.

Ms. Smith thanked the Senator’s office for the draft.  She also believes that education on drinking water quality is a good idea.  We don’t want to undermine the public’s perception of tap water—just the opposite!  It is high quality, and better for the environment than bottled water.  In the section on economic vitality, add more about the potential for new economic growth as well as a commitment to water innovation.  We can’t just put more money into the same old systems; nor are we arguing that all old systems should be abandoned.  These approaches are not mutually exclusive.

Representative Dykema said that the interim report serves a number of purposes. First, the document should recognize the work of the Commission.  Second, this is an opportunity for the Senator and I to educate our colleagues in the legislature, and to acquaint them with the situation in the Commonwealth.  She would suggest three specific changes.  First, on the financial side, we need to highlight the magnitude of the need.  This can be done by highlighting the national concern over water infrastructure, and by using the EPA figures.  We will be fine tuning these numbers for the final report.  Second, we should add in more about what we heard in the hearings from municipalities.  Third, perhaps the list of recommendations is premature, and we should wait to put them in the final (fall) report.

Senator Eldridge thanked everyone for their comments and then opened a discussion, starting with the Representative’s comments about the recommendations.  Are we ready to put forward these kinds of GENERAL recommendations, and then fill in the specifics later?  Or should we postpone until the final report?

The Commission had a full discussion.  Ultimately, it was agreed that:

  1. The Report would be redrafted by staff to reflect the various points of view outlined.  In particular, a section on Need will be added, at a minimum describing the information currently available, and the methodology that Working Group One is using.  The final numbers will be in the Fall Report.
  2. The items listed on page 17 of the draft under Possible Recommendations will be reworked into the list on page 15; additional information and recommendations.
  3. The one recommendation that will be made is to continue to pursue funding for a state of the art, asset based survey of a sample of Massachusetts water and wastewater systems.
  4. Members of the Commission could suggest edits in writing to Ms. Schnitzer by the end of this week.  By the end of next week, she will get out a new draft integrating today’s comments and proposed edits.  The Commission will meet again on June 28 to vote on the interim report.
  5. Senator Eldridge’s office will look into the idea of a longer “all day” meeting – perhaps in July – to work through and find consensus on the recommendations for the report.

Before adjourning, the Commission went through the remainder of the draft recommendations and suggested edits.

Mr. Philbin suggested that the interim report have some good photos in it.  Ms. Schnitzer invited Commissioners to send photos.

Ms. Nelson noted that the report should include more on innovative, hybrid systems.  The two key items are regulatory flexibility and financial incentives.  This should be highlighted in the report.

The Commission will meet in two weeks, on June 28, at ten am.

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