MWRD draws up lobbying agenda for Springfield

  • By Jennifer Slosar
  • Environment Reporter
  • December 19, 2008 @ 9:00 AM

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago yesterday voted  to ask legislators in Springfield to amend the tax code so the agency can sell more bonds.

District officials say increased bonding capacity is necessary to finance a capital improvements program estimated to cost $2.1 billion over 10 years.

Those projects include renovation and expansion of the Stickney, Calumet and Northside water reclamation plants. The upgrades at these plants, the district's oldest and largest, will increase pumping capacity, lower maintenance costs, and lessen carbon emissions, district officials say.

The district's  bonding authority is capped at $141 million. The district is pushing for a change in the state tax code that would expand that number by five percent a year or by the increase in the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less.

“This will give us some more room to finance our capital and infrastructure requirements into the future,” says District General Superintendent Richard Lanyon.

Also yesterday, district commissioners tabled a proposal to amend legislation prohibiting MWRD officers and employees from participating in political activities outside the workplace.

These prohibitions are raising concerns about First Amendment rights, says Board President Terry O’ Brien.

MWRD officials say the legislation predates the federal Hatch Act. Under that act, certain prohibitions against political participation don’t apply to off-duty public employees.

O’Brien suggested the district wait and see if Springfield introduces ethics legislation for state employees in the Spring session.

“There’s been some discussion on this in Springfield for the last year or so,” says O’ Brien. “They might want to act upon it themselves and then incorporate this agency.”

Also, district commissioners deferred voting on an amendment that would increase the threshold for the issuance of emergency purchase orders from $25,000 to $100,000. They say they want to see more information about purchase orders issued in past emergencies.

The commissioners also approved a $328,000, three-year study to assess how certain chemicals affect fish reproduction in the Chicago waterways. The study, to be conducted with St. Cloud State University, will look at endocrine disruptors, so called because they mimic or block hormones that regulate growth and reproduction in organisms.

Jennifer Slosar is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She covers environmental issues for the Daily News