Is BCWA giving ratepayers all the information?
To the editor:
BCWA has proposed rate increases that, by the fifth year, compound out to about 31 percent. This is in addition to the 2010 rate increase. And all of it in a bad economy.
BCWA's alleged support for the 31 percent rate increase — their Clean Water Infrastructure Plan (Plan) for FY2014 to FY2033 — may not be approved until August 2013.
Here's how the review proceeds:
1. BCWA filed this plan to the RI DOH Nov. 1, 2012. Now, as required by the rules and regulations for Clean Water Infrastructure Plans, the plan is under review by various state agencies. Rhode Island Water Resources Board (Pamela Marchand is listed as "Chair" on the RI Secretary of State's website), the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the Rhode Island Department of Administration.
2) Agency comments (from the above-listed agencies), if any, are due no later than April 26.
3) The 30-day public comment period, four months away, is April 26 to May 26.
4) Rhode Island Department of Health's final review is due no later than Aug. 24.
Of particular concern is that at the same time BCWA is attempting to have the plan approved by state officials, BCWA is trying to close down the state mandates under the 1992 Bristol County Water Supply Act (Act). The Act remains an incomplete 1993 initiative where state taxpayers were asked to fund development of BCWA's Massachusetts water supplies. The basis for state funds included the requirement that BCWA complete the replacement Shad Pipeline to those water supplies. Since 1993, the pipeline never went beyond the drawing board. BCWA seems now to be trying to make an argument that, in spite of not completing the Shad Pipeline, they are entitled to these state funds anyway.
Many issues remain unresolved.
A rate increase that is based on an unapproved plan, and unapproved amendments to existing state mandates should be of great concern to rate payers.
BCWA should now fully explain the following:
1) The $6.9 million of state funds BCWA would now like to claim are tied entirely to the completion of the Shad Pipeline — but the Shad is no longer a viable project. Is BCWA asking state taxpayers for an entirely new spending initiative that may not be approved? See the plan, page iv — "Any interim actions taken by BCWA in support of" the Plan "assumes that": "The Act" (current statutory scheme) is modified or repealed as to BCWA's obligation to maintain existing facilities, the transfers of at least $6,900,000 of prior bond funding to BCWA, BCWA implements "rates and changes sufficient to meet its" bond obligations, and BCWA gets necessary approvals — including the "bondholder consent, if necessary".
2) How does BCWA resolve approximately $1.7 million in state funds for work on the BCWA water treatment plant in 2001, paid in advance of the completion of the Shad Pipeline, and now an apparent waste of taxpayer dollars?
3) Why has there never been an audit of spending under the Act, and in particular, of the $5 million in cost overruns on the East Bay Pipeline being paid off by local residents?
4) Why does BCWA need to hire more staff when the BCWA has finally admitted that they are no longer operating the Shad Pipeline, the pump stations, the treatment plant the Nayatt wells/treatment facility, etc.? This question comes in light of the fact that BCWA Executive Director Pamela Marchand was hired based on her filling the engineering role. Ratepayers also recently paid to fill a "CFO" position, which was supposed to include the MIS function in the job description. It seems that there are current staff who should be capable of fulfilling many necessary functions, such as project management and "operations" management.
5) Why has there been a lack of attention to the infrastructure in all these years (in violation of state law) even though the rates were the highest in the state?
6) Where did all the money go, including but not limited to the millions spent on chemicals and sludge removal, and prior bond money specifically allocated to the proposed Shad Pipeline?
7) Why is there no adequate redundant water supply, and why has this vulnerability been allowd to exist for years?
8.) Why has BCWA not completed the infrastructure plan/fund all these years, in spite of the plan being a statutory mandate since 1993 under the Act?
9) How can Ms. Marchand objectively represent the interests of the ratepayers when she has not provided proper BCWA oversight in her senior position on the RI Water Resources Board in all these years, a duty she was required to uphold under the Act?
10) Why did those BCWA board members who voted on Dec. 20, 2012 in favor of retaining Attorney Sandra Mack, do so in an apparent illegal meeting? Not only is Ms. Mack's prior legal work on behalf of ratepayers questionable, but why did this reappointment have to be done in a manner to block public comment?
11) Why is the Anawan Club now apparently forced to sue the BCWA for dam repair work, especially since the BCWA Plan includes funds to fix the dam? How much will the legal fees be for this issue (including, apparently, attempts by the Anawan's to resolve the matter before going to court)? Why did BCWA accept FEMA money (for which BCWA made written application to FEMA) but did not use the money as it was supposed to be used in this matter? See also, plan, page 3-2: The Massachusetts Dam needs repair. The report says that FEMA money will be obtained for part of the cost. BCWA already applied for and received FEMA money.
12.) Why are ratepayers being asked to "Renovate 2nd floor: $150,000. Basement locker rooms: $50,000"?
13) BCWA must explain how there are 233 miles of water distribution mains, of which 57 miles have been replaced a cost of $18 million. That's $315,789 per mile. The plan is to replace 60 additional miles at more than $750,000 per mile, at a cost of $46,694.800. The doubling in costs is not sufficiently detailed in the document.
14) Office equipment: $330,000 (Vehicles & Office Equipment total: $2,180,000.)
15) Where are the cost savings quid-pro-quo for the expenses in the Plan such as $1,960,000 in a new computer system, shutdown of all water production facilities, etc.? This question deserves a thorough review given that BCWA agreed to a "no-layoff clause" in the new union contract and Ms. Marchand appears to desire a significant amount of staff expansion at a high cost to ratepayers.
16) Plan, page 6-2 - BCWA proposes yet another study, this time for $225,000.
17) On Jan. 25, 2011, a forum was held to air public concerns about our local water supplier, the Bristol County Water Authority (BCWA). In response to a question as to whether BCWA's emergency backup connection in East Providence would work properly, BCWA's Executive Director at the time, Pasquale DeLise, said : "I could turn it on tomorrow". Then, due to lingering concerns about that East Providence connection, BCWA paid to have the engineering firms of Camp Dresser McKee (CDM) and PARE Engineering, do a top-to-bottom analysis of the emergency connection. The Conclusion? "The existing emergency interconnections with East Providence can adequately supply water to BCWA under emergency conditions." But now BCWA seems to be indicating that $millions more must be spent to make the previously-certified emergency connection work properly.
Does anyone really think that we have enough accurate information to approve a 31 percent rate increase? Or to support any legislation that would finagle a way to take the $6.9 million that was specifically ear-marked for the Shad completion and re-allocate it?
I don't think so.