Chronicle Editorial

EPA requirement adds headache for Hampton wastewater project


     It appears the oblivious logic of the federal government has trickled down to Hampton and unsurprisingly tripped up progess for a local project that’s been years in the making.

     The city council learned last week that ongoing development of Hampton’s future wastewater facility will most likely get stalled due to a new high-handed regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency. The policy has nothing to do with protecting the environment and it won’t improve the wastewater facility’s efficiency ╨it isn’t even in the same category. Rather, the EPA’s new “buy American” requirement is rooted firmly in economic reasoning and laden with overbearing regulations.

     Yaggy Colby & Associates engineer Tom Madden informed the council about the unfortunate development last Thursday. He explained the EPA’s new policy stipulates that contractors working on publically-funded projects like Hampton’s wastewater facility use only American-made products. Madden described the announcement as a “bomb,” and believed it would delay progress and potentially add to the project’s $8 million price tag. Frustration about the new policy focused on the EPA’s unpreparedness and poor timing ╨they haven’t even finalized guidelines for the “buy American” regulations, which has created an air of uncertainty with Hampton’s project and many others throughout the entire country.

     The timing couldn’t be worse. Bid-letting for Hampton’s project was hoped to begin sometime this spring, but that seems to be in severe jeopardy now. Madden believed delayed progress and added costs would be unavoidable if the EPA couldn’t finalize the “buy American” guidelines within next two weeks. The city is unable move forward with the bid-letting process until they know what they can and can’t include in the bid documents for contractors. Essentially, their hands are tied and they’re at the mercy of the EPA.

     Very few people would refute the new policy’s logic. Buying American-made products stimulates the economy and strengthens domestic job security by keeping business here at home. However, the EPA’s abrupt new rule seems to be an overbearing requirement for municipalities already shackled by a long list of regulations. Why this announcement came now is anyone’s guess, but it’s clear officials were unprepared for such sudden news. Prolonging progress by adding more hurdles is an unnecessary measure that should be reconsidered by the EPA.

     It’s quite obvious certain exceptions are needed with the new “buy American” policy. Implementing a clause into the final guidelines exempting projects already in the planning stages would be a worthwhile addition that could save cities like Hampton the trouble of wading through more red tape. It’s important to buy American-made products, but it’s equally important to stay on track with vital projects like Hampton’s new wastewater facility. Side-tracking its progress on cumbersome requirements not germane to improving the environment or the facility’s efficiency seems rather negligent on behalf of the EPA.

     The new wastewater facility is an expensive project, but it’s valuable investment in Hampton’s future. The current outdated plant is around 50 years, sits in a flood zone, and has extremely limited room for expansion to accommodate more usage. The EPA’s new policy only prolongs future improvement and creates a wall for immediate progress. The federal agency should include exemptions so communities can continue developing projects with merit to strengthen local infrastructure here in Hampton and across the country.