Hartford North End advocates say they feel deceived as a bill to address sewage issues stalls
Activists are distressed that Connecticut lawmakers don’t appear to be moving forward on legislation that they say would help address ongoing flooding and sewage issues in Hartford’s North End.
Supporters say a bill in the General Assembly is aimed at increasing transparency for the Metropolitan District (MDC), which provides sewer and water services in the Hartford region. The legislation calls for forming a task force to examine the MDC's operations, requiring annual audits by the Auditors of Public Accounts and enforcing a code of ethics.
Advocates say they’ve learned that the bill's future is bleak. They expressed their discontent at a recent press conference. They are seeking systemic changes after years of sewage and flooding issues. They say MDC provides unequal access to services in Hartford’s North End community.
"We have not been disenfranchised from paying our water bills,” said Cynthia Jennings, an environmental and civil rights attorney. “But we have been disenfranchised to have the same services the MDC has."
MDC declined to comment last week on the proposed legislation. But officials have previously said the bill’s provisions are “unreasonable, unnecessary and have the potential to cause significant harm.” The agency says it’s been prioritizing repairs and improvements of the existing sewer infrastructure in northern Hartford and beyond.
Sen. Derek Slap, D-West Hartford, said he remains hopeful about the legislation, but that it needs more lawmaker support. He said there is bipartisan support to reform the MDC. There have also been growing calls for MDC's chairman William DiBella to step down following an independent investigation that found DiBella attempted to direct about $80,000 in legal bills to an unapproved legal firm.
"I've said this publicly that I think it is time for him to go," Slap said. "Ultimately, this isn't about one person; it's about the structure and ethical reforms that are needed."
DiBella has told the Hartford Courant that he has no plans to leave.
Following the North End flooding issues, advocates say there needs to be an audit and oversight of MDC. Supporters were hopeful that Senate Bill 1139 would provide management.
J. Stan McCauley, president of the Greater Hartford African American Alliance, said the North End community feels upset and disrespected.
"It would seem that special interests and political interests are superseding the interests of the constituents that actually voted for these people to represent us," McCauley said. "It is shameful, and it is very discouraging that we're here without the Hartford delegation behind us."
Opponents of the legislation include the Connecticut Society of Certified Public Accountants, which says a statutory change would have a negative effect on accounting firms that perform audits of organizations like the MDC and “could have far-reaching and unintended effects.” The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) also opposes the legislation.
Activists say the flooding and sewage overflows in North Hartford are a decades-long issue. They say the overflows cause the raw sewage to back up into people's basements, spill into neighborhood streets, and flow into local waterways like the Connecticut River.
The advocates say affluent areas don’t see the type of flooding and sewage seen in the North End.
The legislation comes as the United States Environmental Protection Agency visited the North End neighborhood and found that the city of Hartford and MDC share responsibility for some of the complaints from community members.
MDC said in April it continues to work with various agencies “on multiple, short term and long term solutions that will provide positive benefits to the community in the North End of Hartford.”