Water windfall: MWRA to receive significant stimulus funds

By Seth Daniel
For the Transcript

State and federal government officials converged on Deer Island Monday afternoon for an award of $185 million in stimulus money to the MWRA for use throughout the system.

Lisa Jackson, head honcho of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), joined Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and Congressman Michael Capuano and a plethora of additional state officials for the announcement.

Additionally, Jackson and other officials pointed out the two new windmill projects on Deer Island, and the solar panels that are already installed and are going to be installed on several Deer Island buildings. Those projects, though, weren’t funded by the new stimulus awards.

The first solar project was completed in 2008 through federal grants and bonds. The second and upcoming solar project, which will cost $1.2 million, will be funded by stimulus money that has already been received by the MWRA.

The new money coming into the state from the Feds will be used around the MWRA system for clean water improvements and drinking water improvements. Most every city and town in the MWRA is expected to see a piece of that money. A total of $133 million will be streamed into the state’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund, and $52.2 million will go into the state’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. Those funds are used to provide low-interest loans to communities in the system to complete projects that will upgrade sewer and water infrastructure.

“I’ve spent my entire career working on environmental issues, and economic issues are pitted many times against environmental issues,” said Jackson, who was most recently a state official in New Jersey. “Those two concerns are too often seen as incompatible. You are witnessing a change of thinking right now. We all know win-win solutions are possible. They’re not only possible, they’re absolutely essential to our economy and our future…We do not have to choose between a green economy and a green environment.”

Also on stage were several trade union workers and officials, who will be the beneficiaries of many of the jobs created by the influx of state money – reinforcing the federal government’s strong new friendship with the trade unions.

While Winthrop Congressman Ed Markey didn’t attend the presentation, Congressman Capuano, who represents East Boston and several other areas of Boston, was present and made his typical impassioned speech.

“Taxes have become an evil word now, but taxes are an important part of life and bring good things to our people,” said Capuano. “This stimulus money is all tax money, and when we voted for it, we got some grief…I voted for it for this reason – to get things moving forward and get people working.”

He added ratepayers will be benefited by the stimulus money coming to improve the system.

“The average ratepayer in the MWRA pays less to educate their children – through property taxes – than to pay their MWRA bill,” he said. “That’s bass ackwards. That’s wrong…Today we’re here to stand up and say this is worth your tax dollars. To forget there are ratepayers at the other end of this is easy to do, but is always a mistake.”

Lt. Gov. Tim Murray also said the stimulus money was about merging the environment with the economy.

“It’s going to put people to work, and it’s going to preserve our environment and help our economy,” he said. “This can be good for our environment and our economy.”

The $185 million stimulus influx will be available to the MWRA system as well as other water and sewer systems from Cape Cod to the Berkshires. The federal government will award a total of $6 billion nationwide in stimulus money for water and sewer improvements. Some 20 percent of those improvements will be for so-called environmentally innovative projects.

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