Bar News - September 20, 2013
Environmental, Natural Resources & Utilities Law: DES: State Funds Flowing Again for Water Projects
By: Thomas Burack
In June, with the enactment of the state budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, Gov. Maggie Hassan and the General Court restored funding for state aid grants for wastewater projects, drinking water projects and landfill closures, supporting projects delayed for a number of years. This resulted in the restoration of funding for 127 projects from about 50 municipalities.
Some of these grants had been delayed for almost five years, since November 2008, due to state funding shortfalls caused by the recession. Restoration of this funding was the result of very hard work by many municipal officials, the New Hampshire Municipal Association, and a bipartisan group of legislators to inform elected state officials of the importance of the funding.
The State Aid Grant (SAG) program provides grants of 20-30 percent of eligible project costs to help communities offset the cost of expensive infrastructure improvements. The grant payments are tied to the debt service payments for the projects, and most projects opt for a 20-year finance period. These projects not only benefit the local community by providing infrastructure essential for public health and the environment, but also the overall state environment and economy by contributing to the clean waters that attract thousands of recreational tourists to New Hampshire.
New Hampshire has a tremendous need for water infrastructure replacement, repair and expansion over the next 10-20 years. In fact, it is estimated that at least $2.9 billion in upgrades is needed for water supply, wastewater, stormwater and dams primarily owned and operated by local governments. This need is generally caused by aging infrastructure, facilities at or exceeding capacity due to growth, and federal regulatory requirements. The affordability of these necessary upgrades is a major concern for New Hampshire’s municipalities. This challenge is one of several key issues identified by the Water Sustainability Commission in its final report, issued in December 2012, which is available on the state’s website.
To help address the funding issue in the future, Gov. Hassan and the General Court also continued authorization of the Commission to Study Water Infrastructure Sustainability. This commission has scheduled nine meetings this fall to complete its work in time to deliver a final report by Nov. 1. I am optimistic that this report will present a framework for a long-term sustainable state funding strategy for New Hampshire’s water infrastructure.
In 1959, Gov. Wesley Powell and the New Hampshire General Court enacted the first state budget that included authorization of state aid grants to municipalities for water pollution control projects. Those grants made municipal wastewater treatment projects more affordable and spurred the cleanup of our rivers, lakes, and estuaries that continues today. Who then would have imagined that, 54 years later, this program would still exist and would still be playing such a vital role in the restoration of New Hampshire’s environment and improvement of our drinking water supplies?
These state grants are one of the most successful environmental restoration and public health protection programs in New Hampshire’s history. I look forward to a bright future for this program that provides financial support for the water infrastructure that is essential to the future of New Hampshire’s economy, environment and the public health of our citizens.
Thomas S. Burack, an NHBA member, has been commissioner or the NH Department of Environmental Services since 2006. Previously, he was an attorney in private law practice, representing a wide range of businesses, institutions and individuals in environmental, health and safety, and energy matters.