The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is running out of patience as the City of New Bedford continues to drag its feet over restarting the federally mandated upgrades to the water and wastewater infrastructure. The EPA is threatening fines of up to $56,000 per day unless the work resumes, pronto. The upgrades are required under the federal Clean Water Act and will be performed, one way or another.

Until now, New Bedford has complied with the EPA mandate but finds itself out of compliance after missing two borrowing deadlines for funding the next phase of the multi-tiered project that has been ongoing for more than two decades. Jack Spillane, in a September 15 New Bedford Light article, reported city officials have had "flexibility in the way it does its upgrades" because of the good compliance – but that could change.

Spillane wrote that "New Bedford's current sewer and water rates are not high enough to pay for upgrades the city needs to comply with" the federal mandate. So, rates are going up. The extent to which the rates must increase is alarming to some on the New Bedford City Council and should be to you as well.

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The council faces a loan order totaling some $128 million-$57 million for the Combined Sewer Overflow project and $71 million for water system infrastructure work. Four of the 11 members of the city council are unwilling to support the loan order until a way can be found to minimize the impact of rate hikes on consumers. Eight votes are required to advance the loan order.

My advice would be to satisfy the demands of the EPA and secure the funding necessary to restart the project, and figure out a way to reduce or at least hold down water and sewer rate increases at another time. It may be the best and only option.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at barry@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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