On June 9, NewarkDIG (Doing Infrastructure Green), in partnership with Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers and the Jersey Water Works Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Committee, held a workshop to help community advocates around the state prepare for reviewing the CSO Long Term Control Plans (LTCPs) now due on October 1, 2020.  Watch the workshop here.

In 21 NJ communities, CSO Long Term Control Plan (LTCP) decisions are being made alongside a flood of other political, social and environmental storms. Nicole Miller, NewarkDIG chair, explained how the CSO LTCPs fit in the context of our current realities. “This is absolutely an environmental justice issue, and so when we think about the world we are living in right now and all of the things that are happening, this is also part of that conversation. We hope that all of you take this seriously. We hope that you are thinking about the communities that are affected like Newark, where I live, Trenton, Camden, Paterson. These are communities that have cumulatively been impacted by environmental damage. So we want to make sure we are providing healthy safe water and waterways for people to recreate and live and sewage free streets at the very least.”

Speakers emphasized the importance of communities having a voice in the plans that will include the multi-million dollar projects selected to reduce sewage overflows, a timeline for implementation, what will be prioritized, costs, and the financial capability of the municipality or utility to be able to pay for the plans. Presenters discussed what’s new, where to focus and what to look out for in these plans. A major component of the plans that has not been sufficiently communicated to the public are the regional alternatives, like the very large tunnels and parallel interceptors being considered for the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission Region. Participants expressed concerns about the cost of these large projects and how the City of Newark would specifically be burdened by the construction.

Michele Adams, founder of Meliora Design, touched on another issue that has not been part of the plans: private property opportunities for implementing green infrastructure (GI). She explained how the City of Philadelphia updated its stormwater ordinance to capture the private property opportunities for new and redevelopment projects as part of their Long Term Control Plan. She stressed that the most cost-effective time to implement GI is when you are building something and that the ordinance has not stopped development or redevelopment. This is especially relevant in New Jersey as the state just released a new stormwater rule and all of the CSO municipalities are now in the process of revising their stormwater ordinances.

Larry Levine, Director of Urban Water Infrastructure & Senior Attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council and member of the JWW Asset and Finance Committee presented on equitable and affordable ways to finance CSO LTCPs. “Do not take the existing rate structure for granted. Evaluate more equitable rate structures, which can reduce burdens on low-income customers, or on residential customers generally” said Levin. He suggested that community groups and advocates ask utilities if they are considering equitable financing options like a stormwater utility fee.  Even within the context of the presentation there were debates about the use and efficacy of a stormwater utility.

Another aspect of ensuring that these plans benefit CSO communities is through a focus on water workforce development. Connecting water workforce opportunities with local hiring and the local economy was one strategy proposed in the workshop. Green infrastructure projects, more than any other alternative, lend themselves to towns working with local contractors. Prioritizing green infrastructure training in these communities along with local hiring ordinances that are tied to municipal contracts would bring money back into the community.

While the new deadline extension allows more time for public outreach, the limitations of physical distancing require new tactics and strategies for gathering feedback from the public on the selection of alternatives to CSOs. The group discussed the importance of continuing public outreach and using multiple methods for outreach including online and offline tactics.

The presentation discussed these things and more. Feel free to watch the presentation at the link above or view the slide deck on the Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers website. A second installment of this workshop will be held in August. Please join us as we focus on reviewing a draft of the LTCP with the express purpose of developing useful comments from community groups for NJDEP consideration.

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