The legislature’s Planning and Zoning Development Committee has voted for H.B. 5888 to be advanced to the General Assembly and according to lawmakers, the bill is now called H.B. 1139. Community leaders, including Bridgitte Prince and Randy Watson, were elated when they learned of the decision because they consider H.B. 1139 a key part of their goal to solve North End issues.
Senator Derek Slap, D-West Hartford, a co-sponsor of the bill, commented that the bill includes modest and common-sense reforms that will improve transparency, strengthen accountability, and empower customers. He also expressed his anticipation of working with his colleagues in the Senate to get the bill passed in the coming weeks.
According to lawmakers, if H.B. 1139 is passed by the CT General Assembly, it would:
- require annual audits of the Metropolitan District Commission’s (MDC) accounts by the state Auditors of Public Accounts,
- establish a task force to examine the MDC’s organization and operations. The task force would review district charter provisions and appraise the feasibility of allowing members of the district’s board of commissioners, appointed from non-member municipalities to vote on water rate approvals established by the water bureau.
- require the district board to adopt a model code of ethics by 2025.
Considering the recent flooding beset by North East residents, the MDC has responsibility for sewer and water systems. State Rep. Tom Delnicki, R-South Windsor and co-sponsor of the bill commented that he is hopeful that the Planning and Development Committee will vote to send H.B. 1139 to the floor of the House Representatives.
Delnicki applauded the vote by the legislature of the Planning and Development Committee as a milestone. Delnicki explained that H.B. 1139 is a great opportunity to move forward by examining the MDC charter, ascertaining MDC’s specific responsibilities, and determining changes that might be appropriate in the future.
A spokesman for the MDC stated that he had not seen the new version of the bill and could not comment on it. However, during the Planning and Development Committee’s meeting on February 17, 2023, the MDC’s District Counsel Chris Stone opposed the bill on the basis that its provisions are, “unreasonable, unnecessary, and have the potential to cause significant harm.” Stone asserted that the MDC is currently subject to a rigorous annual audit by an independent auditing firm because the MDC committed to its bondholders that the independent audits are/will be performed in a timely manner to protect the bondholders’ investments. Stone offered that they [MDC}:
- oppose the creation of a task force to examine the organization and operations of the MDC and make recommendations for changes to the MDC charter;
- do not understand the need for the proposed task force and potential changes to the charter because several legislative changes were already made that affect the MDC and its charter. Some of these changes were made at the MDC’s request and others were made despite the MDC’s expression of concern.
- oppose the proposed mandate that 33 volunteer members of the MDC Board of Commissioners adopt, administer, and enforce the model code of ethics because these volunteer members already have their own code of ethics.
In addition to H.B. 5888 gaining committee approval, support for the residents came in the form of a recent response by state Rep. Geraldo Reyes, Jr., to the Greater Hartford’s NAACP’s plea to address the flooding and sewage issues in Hartford’s North End. In his statement, he expressed his support for the organization’s quest to achieve environmental justice in the city’s North End. Reyes emphasized that flooding has proven to be a major problem and a burden no matter where people reside. Reyes acknowledges that more work is required because – for too long – too many neighborhoods of color across the state have been ignored and this lack of action is putting their health at risk and also stunting economic growth in those communities. He is committed to fighting for “a more robust Environmental Justice Law” and expanding the scope of existing laws by strengthening the language.
Reyes acknowledges that “power plants sewage treatment centers, waste treatment centers, waste incinerators, and landfills are disproportionately causing harm to low-income communities and communities of color throughout Connecticut…We need to address that issue head-on before more damage is done.” He also expressed his commitment to supporting Hartford communities and advocating for the best Environmental Justice Law that the state can offer and helping the Hartford Delegation to secure a real solution for Hartford residents.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., in a recent statement to the Courant newspaper, applauded the federal Environmental Protection Agency and DEEP for identifying potential sources of critical funding that would provide immediate short-term relief for residents in the areas that were impacted by the flood, but long-term solutions would be most important.
Blumenthal asserted that the flooding and sewer backups in Hartford’s North End communities are pressing and urgent environmental justice issues and frustrating to residents who have waited far too long for a resolution, “we owe them [the residents] action … I will continue to push for strong and sustainable solutions and will keep working with local and federal partners to advocate for a better future for this community.”
Mayor Luke Bronin offered support to residents and noted that the sewer systems are ancient because they were built more than a century ago and need work to separate the sewer from stormwater “so that when there’s flooding, it doesn’t back up and put sewage into people’s basements.” Bronin also explained that the Clean Water money can only be spent on the separation of stormwater and sewage. It cannot be used to build the required storm water-sewer systems capable of handling the level of water that residents are experiencing.
During the public comment section of the meeting, Prince sought clarification from the council regarding the agency responsible for helping to solve the flooding and sewage issues in the North End because neither the MDC nor the City of Hartford is claiming responsibility for the growing problem. Jennings informed the council members about the potential health conditions due to residents’ exposure to moisture and water from flooding and sewage issues.
At the February 6, Community Forum on Flooding, the MDC Chairman, William DiBella, concurred with the Mayor’s assessment of the antiquity of the sewer systems but offered that for the last 10-15 years, the MDC has been putting money into improvements and also working with the community, the city, and the federal government. Over the last 10-12 years, $1.7 billion was expended and he expects that MDC will spend another $2 billion in the next 25 years. He expressed his understanding of the complaints regarding residents’ experiences from the flooding and their complaints about the MDC’s slow response time which he blames on issues happening on private property that is not within the MDC’s control.
DiBella said, “We have only so much authority given to us by the State… and DEEP basically controls what we can do.”
In a statement to the Hartford Courant, council President, Maly Rosado responded to the concerns expressed by Prince and Jennings during the aforementioned council meeting. Rosado said, “My colleagues at City Council will work to advocate for these important investments so we can ensure that we address the root cause of this flooding…The conditions described by residents in our North End are unconscionable, and nobody in our city should have to deal with flooding and sewage in their homes that can affect their quality of life, their health, and their financial security.”
Rosado also informed that the MDC is responsible for the city’s water, sewer, and storm-water systems that were not built to handle the once-in-a-generation storms that have become more frequent thereby necessitating significant investment to upgrade the systems. Investments are needed now. Kicking down the road or pointing fingers does not help. This project is expensive but necessary, Rosado said, “We need to make sure we get the funding from the state and the federal government that our residents deserve.”
Source Credit: Deidre Montague, Hartford Courant, Sunday, March 26, 2023.