Coalition proposes funding plan to address Chesapeake Bay water woes

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association, Pennsylvania Builders Association, Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation recently unveiled the Pennsylvania Fair Share for Clean Water Plan.

The plan will help wastewater plant ratepayers and farmers finance improvements needed to address Chesapeake Bay and statewide water quality improvement mandates, while preserving economic opportunity for future homeowners and businesses.

“For the first time, the five groups that have the most at stake in meeting the water quality mandates have put together a responsible funding plan that we hope will help end the controversy over how these projects should be paid for,” said Matthew Ehrhart, Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s executive director for Pennsylvania.

Package plan

“This is a comprehensive package that will enable Pennsylvania to meet our Chesapeake 2000 Agreement obligations, improve statewide water quality, secure vital funds to all county conservation districts and provide for future economic development.”

The Pennsylvania Fair Share for Clean Water Plan will invest $170 million in 2008-2009, in several ways to reduce the financial burden on ratepayers and farms: $100 million to help wastewater plants finance required improvements; $50 million in direct cost-share aid to farmers to install conservation practices; $10 million to county conservation districts to expand technical assistance to farmers; and $10 million to restore cuts to the Department of Agriculture budget in farm programs.

It also proposes reforms to the state’s nutrient credit trading program that will help make it a viable alternative to provide for both environmental improvements to the bay and sufficient future sewage capacity for new development.

In future years, the Fair Share Plan calls for similar investments to reduce costs for ratepayers and farmers.

Partnership

This plan is the result of a partnership of groups with varying missions, but with similar interests and end goals who have worked together to develop solutions to a complex situation.

Representing a farming community of more than 42,000 members across 63 counties, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau supports the plan to enhance water quality through on-site agricultural improvements.

“The solutions that have been offered up to now will not only fail to clean up the bay, but will severely curtail economic growth and development in large portions of Pennsylvania.”
Robert J. Fisher
R. J. Fisher and Associates president

“Farmers are trying to comply with increased regulations recently imposed under revisions to federal and state regulations governing the handling and land application of manure and other nutrients, but they cannot do it alone,” said Joel Rotz, state governmental relations director for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

The Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association and its members have been fighting for state and federal funding to help municipalities achieve required nutrient reductions at their facilities.

Financial burden

“Mandated nutrient reduction under the Chesapeake Bay Tributary Strategy for sewage treatment plants imposes a heavy financial burden on communities and ratepayers,” said John Brosious, Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association deputy director.

“Upgrade costs for 184 impacted plants are estimated at $1 billion. With no current state or federal funding available to offset these costs, it is imperative that Pennsylvania, like Maryland and Virginia, provide funding assistance to impacted communities.”

The Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts oversees numerous programs directly tied to water quality, among other environmental concerns.

Funding for districts has been substantially below levels needed to provide technical assistance to farmers implementing environmental projects, meaning that on-site programs and assistance for conservation efforts have suffered.

“The current state budget proposal of $4.31 million for fiscal year 2008-2009 falls far short of the actual funding need,” said Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts (PACD) Executive Director Susan Marquart.

“The PACD believes that it is past time for a generous increase in funding for Pennsylvania’s conservation districts.”

The Pennsylvania Builders Association represents 12,000-plus member-companies from across the state.

Failed solutions

“The Pennsylvania Builders Association fully supports cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. The solutions that have been offered up to now will not only fail to clean up the bay, but will severely curtail economic growth and development in large portions of Pennsylvania,” said Robert J. Fisher, president of R. J. Fisher and Associates, a New Cumberland-based engineering, planning and surveying firm.

“A functioning, viable nutrient credit trading program, combined with a funding plan that targets money where it can make the greatest environmental impact, can provide sewage treatment plants with a stable, economically feasible alternative to costly capital upgrades and protect future economic opportunity.”

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