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The Jan. 24 editorial, "An important step for regional policy," contends that the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments (SCCOG) legislative proposal, resulting in significant control over the Southeastern Connecticut Water Authority (SCWA), would be very beneficial. As a former SCCOG member (1997-2001), and a SCWA board member since 2002, I strongly disagree.
SCCOG has been seeking control of SCWA since 1995. It is a written objective in both SCCOG's 1997 and 2007 Regional Plans of Conservation and Development. SCCOG has a presence on the SCWA board now. In 2001, SCCOG initiated legislation that increased the SCWA board from five to seven members. The additional members are recommended for appointment by SCCOG.
No new legislation is needed for SCCOG and SCWA to work together on water planning issues. SCCOG, the region's municipalities and water utilities, and pertinent state agencies worked together with SCWA in 2002 to produce the Southeastern Connecticut Water Supply Plan in 2003. In 2008-2009 SCCOG and SCWA formed a joint water planning committee and cooperatively worked together. A joint request was even proposed and sent to the state legislature. SCCOG, however, abruptly terminated this relationship in 2010 and, with a few municipal and water utility provider representatives, unilaterally proposed a new "regional plan" via a map indicating that the region should be composed of three self-sufficient districts, operated by the region's major municipal water utilities. Is this best for the region?
The allegation that SCWA's Representative Advisory Board meetings are poorly attended is just not true. The RAB is composed of up to two individuals appointed by each of the region's municipalities. Representatives from eleven municipalities must be present for a meeting quorum to exist. Over the past five years a quorum has been present for 16 of 20 meetings. Two of the four meetings at which a quorum was not achieved were due to severe weather conditions.
Thirteen municipalities were represented at the RAB meeting on Jan. 19 and about ten of those present voiced opposition to the proposed legislation and the manner in which it is being advanced. SCCOG Chairman Dan Steward, first selectman of Waterford, was present and heard their concerns, as did Paul Formica, an East Lyme RAB member and that town's first selectman.
RAB members typically serve for many years and are very knowledgeable about regional water issues. Replacing this body with the politically focused, ever changing SCCOG (last November six new members were elected), does not seem to be an improvement.
SCCOG's legislative proposal would add functions to SCCOG which would override several key duties of SCWA's board. In fact, if enacted, SCCOG would replace the current SCWA board, appoint a new chairman, and have appointment approval of SCWA's general manager. SCCOG would also be empowered to approve customer water rates, borrowing money, issuing bonds, agreements with municipalities, water utilities, etc., and the acceptance of any grants, loans or contributions. SCCOG would have a great deal of authority with little responsibility, while the SCWA board would have the same responsibilities with significantly limited authority.
If the proposed legislation is enacted, I would also be concerned that the 10,000 residents of southeastern Connecticut who depend on SCWA for a dependable, high quality water service and who may not be as well served. SCWA was able to keep the 15 water systems supplying these customers operating during both storms Irene and Alfred, and is now seeking FEMA funds to help offset the extra costs involved.
I oppose this legislative proposal. There is no need for it, and its passage may well have unintended negative consequences. A return to collaborative water planning activities by SCCOG and SCWA would better serve the region.
James Fogarty is the chairman of the Southeastern Connecticut Water Authority.