The Mdc Is On Notice Regarding The Biggest Construction Project In Its History -- Hire Minorites And Hire Women.
May 3, 2007
By DANIEL D' AMBROSIO, Hartford Advocate Staff Writer
If the Metropolitan District Commission fails to share a big enough piece of its $1.6 billion Clean Water Project pie with minorities, it won’t be because they weren’t warned.
Both Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez and the legislature have taken pains in recent weeks to publicly state their expectations when it comes to the MDC’s responsibility to hire minorities.
The massive project, which should be in full swing by next year, was mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection to fix a region-wide sewer system that is regularly overwhelmed by rain storms, dumping one billion gallons of raw sewage annually into the Connecticut River.
In an April 17 letter to William DiBella, chairman of the MDC’s Board of Commissioners, Perez wrote that “it is imperative that the MDC set aside a fair portion of the work to be performed for qualified minority owned businesses that have been historically discriminated against in the construction industry.”
Perez holds up the city’s school construction projects as an example for the MDC to follow, pointing out that the work is being done under an agreement that stipulates “20 percent WMBE (Women and Minority Business Enterprise) set-aside and residency goal of 30 percent.”
“This program has helped grow the capacity of our minority owned small businesses and put hundreds of city residents to work with union wages and healthcare,” Perez said in his letter.
On April 5, Rep. Art Feltman, D-Hartford, and Sen. Eric D. Coleman, D-Bloomfield, amended an MDC-related bill with language requiring the water utility to make sure 25 percent of their contractor’s or subcontractor’s employees are minorities and 5 percent are ex-offenders who have completed probation or parole.
The language also requires the MDC to ensure that 18.75 percent of the total value of all contracts connected to the Clean Water Project goes to minority businesses. It requires the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities to make sure these targets are met, and to ensure minority owned businesses “ready, willing and able” to do the work are actually being hired.
Conversely, if the commission finds there just aren’t enough minority workers or minority-owned firms available to be hired, it can waive or postpone the percentage requirements in the amendment.
The bill itself, SB 1250, began as an authorization for the MDC to add a surcharge to its water users’ bills to help pay for the Clean Water Project.
Hartford residents voted in November to allow the MDC to spend the first $800 million on the project, which MDC spokesman Matt Nozzolio said will come from a variety of sources.
“In order to pay for this we’ve always expected we would be using a combination of state and federal grants, state loans from Clean Water funds, and funds from our capital reserves,” Nozzolio said.
The surcharge, which would be applied to all customers starting in 2008, is based on water use. Nozzolio said the average home water bill would increase by about $30 per year for each of the first five years of work, and $25 per year for the following 10 years, for a total of $400 over the expected 15-year lifespan of the project.
The funny thing about the fuss over minority-hiring is that the MDC says it agrees with everything everyone is saying.
In an April 18 press release, the organization said, “Recent statements by some Hartford citizens have created the impression that the MDC is opposed to SB 1250. In fact, the MDC drafted the initial language to SB 1250 to allow for an equitable distribution of the costs of the Clean Water Project. In addition, the MDC proposed to change its historic procurement processes to allow for increased utilization of minority and women’s businesses.”
Nozzolio said earlier this year the MDC formed a Strategic Advisory Committee made up of local minority business leaders and others to advocate internally for women and minority workers and businesses.
He acknowledged the MDC is concerned about finding enough qualified minority workers to hire, and about balancing its obligation to hire minorities against its obligation to meet a rigid construction schedule.
The MDC is also worried it might be accused at some point of reverse discrimination, according to Nozzolio.
“Given the economics of the city we certainly understand the concerns expressed,” Nozzolio said. “We’re still laying the groundwork to make sure through the next 15 years of the project we’ve tapped into all the skills and abilities of people in the community.”