Members of the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative met Thursday morning to receive an update on federal legislation expected to bring billions to Connecticut to improve the resilience and reliability of public infrastructure.
Signed into federal law on Nov. 15 in Washington, D.C., the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will allocate $1.2 trillion across state agencies, delivered in the form of direct and competitive grants.
Of those funds, Connecticut is expected to receive an estimated $6.04 billion to be used for state projects and disbursed to municipalities across the state, according to Robin Kipnis, general counsel for the regional energy cooperative made up of the Norwich Public Utility company and five others.
“Most of the funding opportunities for us will come in the form of application for grants and direct support, so we need to keep our eyes open for these opportunities,” Kipnis said.
Under provisions of the federal law, most of the money is designated for infrastructure repairs, roads, and bridges.
Money from the bill will also be made available to public utility companies like Norwich Public Utilities, provided mostly for improvements to electric grids, along with money for weatherization projects and the construction of electric vehicle charging stations. There is also support for the purchase of electric, zero, or low emission vehicles.
State Sen. Cathy Osten said the funding is not expected to be distributed for at least seven or eight months, but she welcomed the municipal aid, particularly for those distressed communities like Norwich in her district.
“I’d like to see us have shovels in the ground on some projects next construction cycle,” Osten said Thursday.
How does it work?
The funds will be distributed to states and municipalities in different ways.
At the federal level, agencies like the Department of Transportation or the Department of Energy will channel portions of the funding directly to state governments for governors and their administrations to allocate.
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For competitive grants, funding will be spread out to the relevant state agencies, including the Connecticut Department of Transportation, the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, in charge of sewer systems oversight, or the state’s Department of Public Health, tasked with overseeing water supply systems in Connecticut.
But before the money can be awarded to cities and towns seeking grants, each of the state agencies will need to build out their own application processes; an undertaking Osten hopes won’t overly strain low staff levels on Capitol Hill in Hartford.
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“This is a once-in-a-lifetime infusion and water issues, sewer issues, natural gas, these are all extremely important issues not just for Norwich but for the whole region, “ she added. “ It’s something that I think is important for us to recognize and make sure that we have the staff at the state level to these projects approved and out the door.”
Which Norwich projects are on the table?
As the grant process comes online at the state level, Norwich Public Utilities is preparing to take advantage of the federal funding as a way to improve infrastructure around the delivery of electricity, natural gas, water and wastewater.
“We will be actively pursuing federal funding, through grants or loans, wherever practical or possible for our projects,” said NPU spokesperson Chris Riley, who provided a list of 23 “shovel ready” projects the utility believes to be suitable for state or federal investment.
Beyond seeking funding to support a $167 million upgrade to the NPU Wastewater Treatment Plant scheduled to begin next year, other projects include the replacement of aging sewer pipes along with all identified lead and copper services with new state of the art water services.
“If you fix a sewer line – that’s 100 years of infrastructure, that is how long many of the sewer lines that have been in the ground that haven’t been repaired," Osten said.
The state senator shared her own sometimes overlapping list of potential projects to be funded with federal and state dollars in her district.
Osten and NPU hope funding will help expand natural gas development at the Preston Riverwalk site to support economic development in the area; other targeted projects include rebuilding the Greenville Dam and connecting three NPU electricity substations to improve the grid's performance.
Both the senator and NPU also want to direct funding to connect the Groton and Norwich water systems and the Preston border with Ledyard. The joint water project with Groton Public Utilities would replace aging transmission water mains serving surrounding communities and provide upgrades including “redundancy measures in the case of drought or potential tampering.”
Beyond the material improvements for local utility projects, the state lawmaker pointed out another benefit of the federal and state aid for cities and towns in Connecticut.
“Infrastructure is also jobs,” she said. “More important than anything else it's jobs for construction so I am hoping that people recognize that, but this is not by any means a beyond end-all.”
This article originally appeared on The Bulletin: Norwich infrastructure projects ready for an infusion of federal funds