Cost to upgrade PA wastewater plants estimated at $1.4 billion; Maryland offers free septic upgrades; and more…
Cost to upgrade PA wastewater plants estimated at $1.4 billion
A Pennsylvania legislative report released in late November confirmed the complaints of wastewater treatment plant operators that upgrades needed to meet Bay-related cleanup goals would cost more than $1 billion.
A report by the engineering firm of Metcalf and Eddy for the Joint Budget and Finance Committee estimated the upgrade costs at $1.4 billion. Additional upgrades needed by the plants, unrelated to the Bay goals, push to tab for needed improvements to nearly $2 billion.
"This report provides the General Assembly with an independent, realistic assessment of the financial impact of the Chesapeake Bay Tributary Strategy," said Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland/York, who requested the study. "Now that we have a nonpartisan analysis establishing the costs for compliance, additional work must be done to help municipalities with this unfunded mandate."
The Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association in 2005 had estimated that the cost to the 184 plants needing upgrades to meet Bay-related permit limits would be $1 billion. The state Department of Environmental Protection contended the cost could be as low as $190 million because lower cost options to upgrades were available, such as participating in the state's nutrient trading program.
Vance called for an outside study to settle the dispute, and that resolution unanimously cleared the state Senate.
Metcalf and Eddy's study surveyed the 184 impacted treatment plants to assess their costs to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loads, which eventually make their way to the Bay, and also evaluated the practicality of the DEP Nutrient Credit Trading program.
Metcalf and Eddy's $1.4 billion estimate for the upgrades is in line with the costs of upgrades in Maryland and Virginia. Virginia has estimated that its costs for 100 impacted plants would be between $1.5 and $2 billion; and Maryland's costs were estimated between $1.2 and $1.5 billion for 66 plants.
Unlike Pennsylvania, each of those states have made available more than $750 million to their treatment plants to meet Chesapeake Bay upgrades.
John Brosious, deputy director of PMAA, said the state's refusal to acknowledge realistic costs hurt efforts of municipalities to secure additional funding over the last three years.
"This delay in assessing actual costs has prevented a dedicated funding source for Bay upgrades," Brosious said. "Communities are facing historically high construction and materials costs along with a diminishing ability to access bond funding in a depressed economy, while being held to a fixed time frame for these upgrades."
State officials have maintained that communities could reduce the cost of meeting discharge permit requirements by engaging in nutrient trading. But the Metcalf and Eddy study also questioned the effectiveness of the current Nutrient Credit Trading program and said changes would be needed to make it a practical option.
With complaints from plant operators rising, the General Assembly and Gov. Ed Rendell last summer made $850 million in grants available for drinking water and sewer system upgrades across the state. Voters in November approved a bond issue that will make another $400 million available for such improvements statewide. But with the state facing an estimated $35.5 billion backlog in water infrastructure needs, it's unclear how much of that money will be available for Bay-related improvements.
Maryland offers free septic upgrades
Maryland residents whose homes are hooked to a septic system have an opportunity to reduce their nitrogen footprint for no cost.
The Maryland Department of the Environment is offering upgrades that will remove nitrogen pollution while protecting and extending the life of the septic system. The new equipment, the installation and five years of maintenance are absolutely free-100 percent of the costs are paid through the Bay Restoration Fund.
For an application form and details, call 410-537-4195 or visit MDE's website, www.mde.state.md.us.
VA judge rejects request by watermen to dredge crabs
A Norfolk judge in November rejected pleas from watermen who want to keep dredging crabs from the Chesapeake Bay this winter, despite a new regulation that bans such activity.
The watermen had filed a lawsuit against the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, arguing that the commission erred in banning winter dredging this year and that only the General Assembly is empowered to do so. The season would normally start Dec. 1.
But Circuit Judge Jack Doyle sided with the commission and the Kaine administration when he kept the ban in place before their case is heard in court in February. The commission barred winter dredging several months ago with the intention of hastening a rebound of the Bay's declining crab population.
MD hires watermenfor oyster restoration
The state of Maryland has found work for 604 watermen who have been struggling to make ends meet since the decline of the blue crab industry.
About 520 watermen will be put to work restoring oyster reefs in the Chesapeake Bay. The Department of Natural Resources says another 84 will be given land-based assignments, including trail restoration and aquaculture construction.
Gov. Martin O'Malley said in a statement that the state is keeping Maryland's watermen working while giving the blue crab population time to rebuild.
The watermen are being hired through the state and the nonprofit Oyster Recovery Partnership using $3 million in state capital funding. Federal disaster funding will also support the program.
VA recycling rate above national average
Virginia's recycling rate is above the national average and is growing slightly. The state Department of Environmental Quality recently reported said that 38.5 percent of solid waste was recycled in 2007. That compares with 38.4 percent in 2006. The DEQ also said the recycling of plastics, metals, glass and used oil increased between the two years. Virginia's rate is better than the national recycling rate last year of 33.4 percent, and exceeds the EPA's national goal of 35 percent by 2010.
The DEQ said the state's rate for 2007 represents 3.6 million tons of recycled or reused material in the 74 solid waste regions representing the 325 cities, counties and towns.
Court allows CBF suit against proposed reservoir
A court ruling in November clears the way for a possible suit by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation challenging the permit issued for the controversial King William Reservoir.
A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals of Virginia ruled that the CBF has the right to challenge a controversial five-year extension of a state wetland permit granted to the city of Newport News for the reservoir. Concluding that the permit extension does harm to the CBF and its members, the Appeals Court overturned a Richmond court decision that barred the foundation from challenging the state decision.
In the Virginia Court of Appeals case, the court found that the five-year extension of the state reservoir permit injures the CBF by allowing Newport News to continue efforts to advance the project.
"It is most gratifying that the Appeals Court concurs with CBF that the permit extension is a significant action and merits a full hearing," said Joseph Tannery, CBF Virginia deputy director and staff attorney. "All CBF has ever sought is an opportunity to air our grievances in court, but Newport News and the Virginia attorney general's office have fought us every step of the way.
Meanwhile, in a related case in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., a coalition of conservation groups recently filed final arguments asking the court to overturn a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wetland permit issued to Newport News in 2005. Joining the CBF in the federal challenge are the Alliance to Save the Mattaponi, the Southern Environmental Law Center, and the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. A hearing is scheduled for January.
"The Corps' Norfolk District denied this permit in 2000 because Newport News' need for water was not proven and because of the massive harm to the environment and the loss of American Indian cultural resources," said CBF Litigation Director Jon Mueller. "The Corps' North Atlantic headquarters, however, overturned that well-reasoned decision. We believe a federal court will agree the reservoir is not based on good science or public policy."
The battle over the reservoir has gone on for more than a decade. Newport News says it needs the water supply to meet future demand, but opponents say the 1,500-acre reservoir would cause too much harm by destroying more than 430 acres of wetlands, flooding 21 miles of stream, and withdrawing water from the Mattaponi river, which could threaten American shad.
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