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News Briefs: Sewage legislation advanced; bicycle, pedestrian plans

By Wednesday, Jul 24, 2019 News

Joint Committee on the Environment advances legislation addressing combined sewer overflows

Boston — Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, and Sen. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, co-chairs of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture announced last week that the committee has advanced legislation aimed at addressing the issue of sewage discharge in waterways across the Commonwealth.

Redrafted as H.3976, “An Act promoting awareness of sewerage pollution in public waters” would establish practices and procedures to require those legally in charge of running sewage overflow outlets to inform the public if and when raw sewage is entering their rivers and waterways, a term known as “combined sewage overflow.”

“Massachusetts river ways should serve as an asset, not a liability,” said Pignatelli. “It’s 2019, and millions of gallons of sewer discharge are spilled from pipes annually without the public being notified, causing great harm to our public health and our environment. That doesn’t sit well with me. You have a right to know what’s in your water.”

In a combined sewer system, wastewater and stormwater travel in the same pipe. During large rainstorms, the volume of water can exceed pipe capacity and overwhelm the sewer system, causing raw sewage to overflow. The CSO system is designed so raw sewage is discharged into nearby water and is not backed up into neighborhoods or streets.

CSOs receive permits under the Clean Water Act and require that operators must notify the Environmental Protection Agency, and state departments of environmental protection and public health about discharges. According to a WBUR article, discharge notification requirements vary from a 48-hour notification system or allow for annual quarterly reporting. H.3976 seeks to change this by requiring that CSO incidents are reported within two hours of the discovery of discharge, updates given every eight hours, and that a notification is issued two hours within the end of a project or the end of a discharge. The legislation further requires that signage be posted near water areas potentially affected by overflow discharge, which would inform the public about health risks, where to get more information about what causes discharges, etc.

H.3976 is now in the House Committee on Ways and Means.

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MassDOT releases state bicycle and pedestrian plans

Natick — Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack joined highway administrator Jonathan Gulliver, members of the Massachusetts Legislature, local officials and transportation advocates last week at a groundbreaking event to release the Bicycle Transportation Plan and Pedestrian Transportation Plan and to celebrate the start of construction on the latest segment of the Cochituate Rail Trail.

The final Plans each have the goal of increasing safety and the percentage of trips made by walking and bicycling. They include the vision, goals, principles, definitions of key terms, overview of the planning process, the state of walking and bicycling today, and an action plan to achieve the Plans’ goals.

The Plans recommend policies, programs, and projects for MassDOT to guide decision-making and capital investments. MassDOT has a total of $60 million programmed in the FY 2019-FY 2023 Capital Investment Plan for implementation of both the Pedestrian Transportation Plan and Bicycle Transportation Plan.

As part of the Plans, MassDOT released two companion documents – the Municipal Resource Guide for Bikeability and the Municipal Resource Guide for Walkability – in recognition of the important role local cities and towns play. The purposes of the guides are to support cities and towns in their efforts to improve bikeability and walkability as the vast majority of roadways are under local ownership.

The Massachusetts Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board served as the steering committee for the Bicycle Transportation Plan and the Pedestrian Transportation Plan. Over the last two years, the Plans were informed by public input and data analysis.

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