That dirty water

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  April 11, 2007

“The law today” — without the exemption — “is precisely what the legislature intended when the law was passed,” says Walz.

The real reason the Patrick administration doesn’t want the job, critics say, is the same reason the Weld administration rejected it 17 years ago: staffing. The DEP has just seven people overseeing the waterfront permits and licenses, and would need many more if the other tidelands were part of its duties. The administration has enough budget problems without asking for more money for regulators — especially when Patrick has been promising to reduce regulatory hassles to speed economic development.

Area legislators are trying to split the Patrick bill into two parts. They would quickly pass an exemption for already-planned development, so as to not hold up projects in the works. But rather than adopting the exemption going forward, they would take time to develop a comprehensive approach to groundwater and tideland environmental issues.

But, some argue, that’s not really enough. Regulating the impact of new development is important — witness plans for Columbus Center, which include a system to pump roof water into the ground — but is only part of the solution. There needs to be a vigilant, active, permanent body like the new City-State Groundwater Working Group, but one with legal authority and real power, that will monitor groundwater, root out causes of problems, and force corrections — regardless of what the cost is and who will bear it.

“Things are working very well right now,” says Richardson. “But we may not always be so blessed. What is needed is an effective long-term solution that will make it illegal or expensive to do anything that would deplete groundwater.

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David S. Bernstein: dbernstein@phx.com

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Click here to read the response from Ian Bowles, Massachusetts secretary of energy and environmental affairs.
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