|A coalition of
municipal leaders, politicians and environmental groups on Tuesday
accused the state of short-changing sewage-treatment projects across
Seventy-three communities —
including Ansonia, Bridgeport, Milford and Stratford — need more
than $2 billion for sewage-treatment-plant upgrades. But the state
is committing only $20 million toward the effort this year, the
Clean Water Investment Coalition said.
The new group, which includes the
Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the Connecticut Fund
for the Environment, called on the Legislature to approve $70
million in Clean Water Funds for 2007.
"This stepped-up investment is
essential because clean water progress has virtually ground to a
halt," said Curt Johnson, program director for Connecticut Fund
for the Environment, in a statement released after the coalition's
Capitol news conference Tuesday morning.
"If the pathetic level of
funding in the proposed budget continues, restoration of the dead
zone in the Sound will continue for a quarter century and raw sewage
will flow into the Connecticut River and Sound for at least another
Failure to fund the upgrades will
hamper state efforts to reduce nitrogen that the plants release into
Long Island Sound and other waterways, Johnson said. Nitrogen feeds
algae that can rob water of the oxygen that marine life needs to
The state had traditionally invested
$40 million to $50 million annually in the Clean Water Fund, the
coalition said. But in 2002, the money was used for other programs
because the state faced a budget crisis, said coalition members.
Last year, the Legislature and the governor agreed to a two-year
state budget that included about $20 million in grants a year for
clean-water projects. The state also set aside nearly $70 million
for loans to cover the difference.
Dennis Schain, spokesman for the
state Department of Environmental Protection, said Gov. M. Jodi Rell
has put together a task force to look at ways to fund the upgrades
more efficiently. "Everybody knows that there is more need than
funds available," he said.
Rell's office said in a statement
that the governor has announced plans to provide $208 million this
year and next for Clean Water Fund projects in 26 communities.
"Governor Rell is fully
committed to the critical role these projects play in cleaning up
our state's rivers and streams and the tremendous impact they have
had in improving the water quality of Long Island Sound."
Rell's spokesman, John T. Wiltse, said.
Milford Mayor James L. Richetelli Jr.
said the depletion of the Clean Water Fund has pitted communities
against one another as they seek funding for their projects.
Milford needs funding for
denitrification upgrade projects at its Beaver Brook and Housatonic
sewage treatment plants. Although the State Bond Commission recently
approved $36 million for the Housatonic project, the Beaver Brook
project received a lower priority.
"We were put in a situation in
the last few years where we had to fight for moneys that had been
promised to us, and put us into competition with our neighbor in
Stratford," said Richetelli, one of the speakers at Tuesday's
Stratford received $55 million in
funding for similar upgrade projects.
Other projects awaiting funding
include sewage system overhauls in Bridgeport valued at $74 million
and sewage-treatment plant upgrades and other work in Ansonia valued
at a total of $32 million.
State Sen. Bill Finch, D-Bridgeport,
also a member of the coalition, said now is not the time for the
state to back off its commitment to cleaning up its waters, which
have improved greatly since the Clean Water Fund was started in
"I see osprey catching bluefish
in Bridgeport's Yellow Mill Creek, whereas there was nothing living
there just a few years ago," he said. "We don't want to go
Edward Crowder, who covers regional
issues, can be reached at 330-6326.