New Bedford, Mass., announces progress in harbor cleanup efforts

The city of New Bedford has had some success in the cleaning of New Bedford Harbor, Mass. Rep. Barney Frank said in a U.S. House of Representatives session.

WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 14, 2001—The city of New Bedford has had some success in the cleaning of New Bedford Harbor, Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank said in a U.S. House of Representatives session.

Frank relayed the success story in a Jan. 20 session of the House, describing the cleanup's success as a result of positive cooperation between various arms of the government.

"I was pleased to receive from the Mayor of New Bedford, MA, Fred Kalisz, an interesting discussion of how cooperation at all three levels has resulted in a policy involving the cleaning of New Bedford Harbor which has had beneficial environmental and economic effects, without having an excessively harsh financial impact on the citizens of that area."

Frank relayed the following story:
The city of New Bedford is an old coastal community located on the South Coast of Massachusetts, approximately 50 miles south of Boston. Considered by many as the gateway to Cap Cod, Marth's Vineyard and the Islands.

New Bedford's colorful history is intimately tied to the sea. As one of three deep-water ports in the State of Massachusetts, and home to the second largest fishing fleet in the country, New Bedford's history, past and future is tied to the sea and the stewardship of its resources.

The city occupies a land area of 19 square miles and has a mean elevation of 50 feet above sea level. Established in 1787, New Bedford was incorporated as a city in 1847.

The New Bedford wastewater collection system was originally constructed in the middle 1800's as a system of sewers that discharged wastewater directly into the city's inner harbor and Clark's Cove. Between 1910 and 1920, the city expanded the system by adding a main interceptor, conveying wastewater through a now abandoned screen house, into an outfall, discharging into Buzzards Bay.

In 1972, the city added a primary treatment facility located on Fort Rodman, at the southern most tip of New Bedford, to provide primary treatment to the outfall discharged to the Bay. In 1986, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (the "EPA") and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts issued joint permits to the city requiring immediate compliance with the secondary wastewater treatment requirements of the Federal Clean Water Act of 1972 (the "CWA") and the Massachusetts Clean Water Act (the "Massachusetts Act").

In 1987, the city entered into a Consent Decree and began implementation of a Capitol Improvement Program (CIP designed to comply with regulatory mandates of the CWA and the Massachusetts Act. Capitol improvement costs identified by the Decree totaled nearly $225 million and were projected to increase typical household sewer bills from less than $70 per year to over $1000 per household. This court action put the city on schedule to improve its collection and treatment systems through the planning, design, and construction of approved collection and treatment facilities.

The cost of complying with the mandates of the Consent Order represented a major economic and financial burden for the city and its citizens. The city entered into

In total, the city of New Bedford completed twelve major wastewater related infrastructure projects totaling 177 million dollars, to comply with Federal and State clean water mandates ending decades of deferred maintenance and environmental neglect. Today, New Bedford boasts its heritage of the sea with renewed commitment to the stewardship of its resource.

Thousands of acres of shellfish beds, closed for decades, are now open, creating jobs and providing tangible evidence to the success of a community committed to environmental progress.

However, these efforts came at great cost for resident shard pressed to afford the resources necessary to end these decades of neglect. To a community that experienced double digit unemployment, and a blue-collar workforce with a median family income of less than $28,000 per year, New Bedford initiated and raised sewer fees in a depressed economy to support this Herculean effort.

The community viewed original rate projections in the initial phases of the projects timetable with despair. They could ill afford the enormous expense of the commitment before them, help was needed, and New Bedford could not do it alone.

In July of 1988, the city of New Bedford established and adopted the first sewer fee in the municipalities' history, equal to 34 cents per thousand gallons of water discharged into the sewer system. By January 1994 this rate had increased to $3.55 for the same thousand gallons, a 1000% increase. Based on project engineering estimates and financial considerations, rates were expected to approach $6.00 per thousand gallons by the year 1999.

The Massachusetts Water Pollution Abatement Trust (The Trust) was established in March 1993. Utilizing Federal grant money, the Trust established a State Revolving Fund that provided zero interest loans for sewer related infrastructure improvements for municipalities faced with mandates to meet environmental regulations.

This form of Federal and State support of capital improvement project has become a critical component for municipalities to move progressively forward in achieving environmental goals.

In the case of the city of New Bedford, this support has enabled the community to complete every project outlined in their facilities plan to provide infrastructure capabilities for industrial, commercial and residential growth, while meeting clean water mandates and environmental commitments.

As a result of our efforts, New Bedford is the first community to take advantage of extending State Revolving Fund debt and amortizing these commitments out over 30 years. Thus extending the term of the SRF debt to reflect the useful life of the financed projects again minimizing impacts to rates. A community that once faced sewer fees that were unaffordable has completed the largest sewer related capitol improvement program in its history, without breaking the back of the ratepayers.

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