By DAVID CARKHUFF, LACONIA DAILY SUN
FRANKLIN — An organization of civil engineers gave thumbs down to the maintenance of the state’s infrastructure, with lowest grades going to the state’s stormwater and wastewater treatment systems.
But the administrator of the Franklin Wastewater Treatment Facility, which handles wastewater from 10 communities, including Laconia, defended the condition of infrastructure at the plant.
In the April 5 report, a 2017 Report Card for New Hampshire’s Infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers found New Hampshire lagging when it comes to maintaining infrastructure such as roads, bridges, airports, dams and other facilities key to everyday life.
Stormwater and wastewater treatment each received a D plus, the lowest grade of any type of infrastructure rated in the report. In the case of stormwater facilities, the organization for the first time gave a ranking to these systems that handle runoff and surface water.
“This is the first time that we’ve ever graded stormwater. It coming out as a D plus is not surprising,” said Logan Johnson, chair of the Report Card for New Hampshire’s Infrastructure.
“There’s more of a recognition that stormwater is an environmental issue,” Johnson said. “Before it was: We need to put the water somewhere. But now we’re looking at it as: This causes water pollution.”
“The demands on municipal stormwater management continue to increase,” the report summarizes, “with aging stormwater infrastructure handling greater flows than they were originally designed for.”
The report also downgraded New Hampshire’s wastewater treatment facilities.
“That actually decreased from C minus in 2011 to D plus this year,” Johnson said. “That’s a big jump. Making that jump was a clear distinction.”
New Hampshire’s wastewater collection systems date back to the 1870s, she said, and noted that only 35 percent of wastewater in the state is served by collection systems.
“Because so many people don’t use it, they’re saying, ‘Why am I paying for this?’ It’s basically been ratepayers paying for the infrastructure and severely underpaying,” Johnson said.
The report concludes, “Wastewater infrastructure assets were not designed to serve today’s population, do not meet new regulatory requirements, and are not replaced at the end of their lifespan, resulting in increased costs and rising probability of failure.”
But Sharon McMillin, administrator of the Winnipesaukee River Basin Program at the Franklin Wastewater Treatment Facility, said the plant has received regular maintenance.
"We have been doing upgrades and we're on board with where we need to be with the regulatory and environmental aspects," she said.
"We're a 35-year-old facility, and we have done upgrades in that period of time," McMillin said.
Under a 10-year improvement plan, the facility is not scheduled for any major, multi-million dollar improvements, McMillin said.
The engineers' report pointed to deficiencies with wastewater systems across the state, but McMillin said, "We're in much better shape. I'd say we're probably in the B to B plus range."
Newly elected Gov. Chris Sununu told legislators that infrastructure spending is a priority. Any surplus beyond increasing the state's rainy day fund to $100 million will be placed in a proposed new Infrastructure Revitalization Fund, Sununu said in February while presenting a $12.1 billion budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.
Yet the 2017 Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers graded the state’s infrastructure a “C” overall and reported that the state is playing catch-up on funding.
A study in 2011 through the New Hampshire Legislature estimated $1.7 billion in documented needs for wastewater system improvements, Johnson said.
“They have the data that talks about the funding need, and that’s half the battle,” Johnson said.
The report, last compiled in 2011, looked at 12 categories of infrastructure. Besides stormwater and wastewater systems, the areas ranked by engineers included aviation (C plus), bridges (C minus), dams (C minus), drinking water systems (C minus), energy (C plus), hazardous waste (C), ports (D plus), rail (C minus), roads (C-) and solid waste (C plus).
The elephant in the room, Johnson said, was the impact from climate change.
“It’s one of those things we’re looking at. You can’t ignore it,” she said.
More erratic and frequent floods and variations in weather, such as the drought last year, can put pressure on systems, such as drinking water networks, exacerbating a problem already worsened by lagging funding, Johnson said.
“We know the financial needs outstrip state funding,” she said. “The purpose of this report is really to be a tool for residents to open the conversation with their legislators.”
• • New Hampshire passed a 4.2-cent/gallon gas tax increase in 2014, which helps to offset some of the costs from 20 years of deferred investment, however there are still unmet needs. The effectiveness of a gas tax continues to decline as vehicle mileage per gallon and alternative fuel vehicles continue to erode the revenue generated.
• Airport capital investment needs for the next 20 years exceed the available funding by $100 million to $200 million.
• Nearly 80 percent of all state-owned bridges were built prior to 1980. As of December 2015, 12.8 percent of the bridges in state were considered structurally deficient.
• Dams that are not maintained in good operational order can fail and cause loss of life and economic damage. Sixty percent of New Hampshire dams were built before modern dam safety engineering standards were developed.
• Much of the current energy infrastructure – including distribution systems, source of supply infrastructure, water treatment facilities, and pumping facilities – is in need of upgrades or replacement, with a 10-year investment need of approximately $857 million.
“The more that we can talk about how to fund these projects, the better off we will be in the future,” Johnson said.
ASCE State and Regional Infrastructure Report Cards are modeled after the national Infrastructure Report Card, which gave America’s infrastructure a grade of D plus last month. To view the full New Hampshire report, visit http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/new-hampshire.
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