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MDC Clean Water Project Still Angering Greater Hartford African American Alliance

JEFFREY B. COHEN

March 07, 2009

The Metropolitan District Commission's $2 billion Clean Water Project begins serious digging this spring the early stages of multiyear construction to remake much of the region's aging sewer system.

As it gears up, tensions over who will dig the trenches, bore the tunnels, and fit the pipes continue.

On Friday, the Greater Hartford African American Alliance protested in front of MDC headquarters, saying it should have begun training city residents to do the work by now. The alliance is even sending a letter about it to President Barack Obama.

"What we're saying is we want jobs for Hartford residents," former city councilman Steve Harris said. "What's so wrong with that?"

The MDC says it's doing its part. The project will meet or exceed state goals when it comes to hiring contractors with minority or female owners, the MDC said. When it comes to workforce development, the MDC negotiates with contractors to hire Hartford residents and minorities, it said.

The MDC said discussions with the alliance fell apart a year ago in large part because of a list of "discussion points" the alliance made.

Those seven points included language that would have given the alliance influence over various selection processes for hiring and training. They also included language for the commission to pledge funding, support and work for a new company it helped set up to train residents for the project the Construction Training Academy, run by alliance Vice President Michelle Brown.

"We can't pick out one group," said R. Bartley Halloran, the MDC's attorney. "That would be a big problem with everybody else."

One discussion point was for the commission to "require contractors that are currently under contract, or will be under contract with the MDC to use the CTA as a resource for hiring apprentices."

"You can't do that," Halloran said. "That would truly be an illegal act on our part. I would never agree to these discussion points, for them or anybody."

Hiring in Hartford has long been a concern for city residents who look at the progress made in the city a new convention center, a new hotel, new apartments, new schools and still see poverty and unemployment in its neighborhoods.

Michael Jefferson, diversity manager for the MDC, said the issue now isn't a lack of trained people in the city but rather a lack of jobs for them because of the struggling economy.

On the $4.2 million Edgewood Street project, Jefferson and the district say the 18 total employees are projected to be 40 percent minority, 11 percent female, and at least 20 percent Hartford residents.

Still, the alliance says something just isn't right.

"These guys, they say, 'Oh, they're trying to shake us down,'" Harris said. "How ... can I shake down the MDC? Please."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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