Legislature(2015 - 2016)HOUSE FINANCE 519
04/04/2016 01:30 PM FINANCE
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|Confirmation Hearing: Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority: Laraine Derr|
* first hearing in first committee of referral
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HOUSE BILL NO. 209 "An Act relating to an Alaska Water and Sewer Advisory Committee; and providing for an effective date." Vice-Chair Saddler MOVED to ADOPT the proposed committee substitute for HB 209 (FIN), Work Draft (29-LS0306\P). There being NO OBJECTION, it was so ordered. BRODIE ANDERSON, STAFF, REPRESENTATIVE STEVE THOMPSON, spoke to two changes in the bill. The first change was in Section 2, page 2, line 3. It deleted the number 9 and replaced it with 10. The second change was in Section 2, page 2, line 16. It added the following: "A senior employee with expertise in environmental health and engineering from a large nonprofit tribal health organization operating in the stat appointed by the members of the bush caucus; and" Mr. Anderson relayed that Representative Edgmon was available to speak about the impacts of the changes. Representative Edgmon explained that the change would bring the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium into the advisory committee. He thought it was a change that rounded out the make-up of the advisory committee and it was a worth-while addition to the bill. Vice-Chair Saddler had no objection to the addition but wanted to see a definition of the bush caucus and a membership list before he could support the committee substitute. Mr. Anderson believed the sponsor might be able to better address the full definition. He pointed to the bill in Section 2, page 4, line 2-7, provided the definition of "bush caucus." Vice-Chair Saddler still wanted to see a list of current members. He supposed in reading the language of the committee substitute in Section 2, page 4 it would mean whomever happened to be representing the communities into the future. He wanted to see a list of current members before the bill went to the floor. Co-Chair Thompson would have the list produced. Representative Guttenberg referred to Page 4, line 2. He hoped that it included legislators that represented any of the communities rather than all of the communities. The communities listed represent villages that did not have sewer and water at present. He asked if he was correct. 4:30:17 PM REPRESENTATIVE NEIL FOSTER, SPONSOR, DISTRICT 39, introduced himself. The villages listed in the bill were communities currently unserved. Bush Caucus members currently included were Representatives Foster, Nageak, Edgmon, Talerico, and Herron and Senators Olson, Hoffmann, and Bishop. PAUL LABOLLE, STAFF, REPRESENTATIVE NEIL FOSTER, stated that the list of villages in question was the list provided by Village Safe Water. Representative Foster emphasized that the bill had a zero fiscal note. Mr. Labolle stated that the bill essentially established an advisory committee to look at the gap between the established need for water and sewer infrastructure and available funding. He thought everyone was in agreement that it was unlikely to see any increase in funding in the near future. The main focus of the committee would be how to do the job better, faster, and cheaper. Members would be asked to work telephonically, as there would be no travel budget, and there would be no compensation for members. It required that the committee issue a report on December 1, 2017 due to the legislature. He was happy to review committee appointment and members or be available for questions. Co-Chair Thompson encouraged Mr. Labolle to continue. Mr. Labolle referred to Section 2, page 2, line 4. A member of the senate would be appointed by members of the bush caucus. He reported working with the staff of the Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee to derive a good definition for bush caucus. Representative Gattis asked if there were any communities that were served by another legislator outside of the bush caucus that was not included. Mr. Labolle responded in the negative. He indicated that the comprehensive list was reflective in the bill. Additional people were desired. However, in trying to develop a good definition for statute, the list was as it stood. Representative Gattis specified that her question had been answered. Representative Guttenberg pointed out that he had no sewer and water systems in villages within his district. 4:35:08 PM Representative Kawasaki asked about the selected communities and whether they were unserved. Mr. Labolle responded affirmatively. He clarified that there were three types of services that Village Safe Water worked under including unserved communities, underserved communities, and communities with upgrades that did not have a substantial threat. Representative Kawasaki was not concerned about the way the bill was constructed. He commented that there were underserved rural communities. He wondered why they would not be included and, thus, a larger list of bush caucus members. Mr. Labolle relayed that it had been discussed with staff in Community and Regional Affairs. The reason was to save paper because according to Legislative Legal every community had to be cited by name, rather than referencing a list. The bill would have been physically much larger. Representative Wilson asked about what distinguished qualifying communities from other communities. Mr. Labolle deferred to Mr. Griffith from Alaska Native Health Consortium [Department of Environmental Conservation]. Representative Wilson explained that her question was posed in order to better understand the difference between communities that did and did not have septic systems. Individual septic systems were prominent in the Fairbanks North Star Borough. She wondered if the designation for the qualifying communities was based on the Clean Water Act. BILL GRIFFITH, DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION (via teleconference), answered that the list included communities in which there was no community or individual water and sewer services to individual homes. It meant that the community did not have a pipe system, or wells and septic systems that could be installed. There also was no community haul system. The homes were without service in the communities on the list. 4:38:47 PM Representative Wilson asked if they were unable to have a system installed. She wanted to make a distinction. Mr. Griffith responded in the affirmative. The department had been providing water and sewer services to rural Alaska villages. Generally, the villages that remained were the ones where the easier options were not available. The preferred option was to install wells and septic systems anywhere possible. In these particular communities either there was no ground water for wells or there was no way to put individual septic systems in because of permafrost or ground water. 4:39:49 PM Representative Edgmon asked Mr. Griffith to list the myriad of state and federal funding sources that generally went into funding water and sewer projects. He also asked him to describe the larger picture of water and sewer systems in rural Alaska. Some communities, although had systems in place, were old and aging and would be in need of maintenance at some point soon. He opined that down the road without proper maintenance and upkeep of the systems their efficacy would be in question. Mr. Griffith reported that the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) received about $60 million in federal funds to make improvements in rural water and sewer systems. He explained that the federal funding came to Alaska from 3 different federal agencies. The first was Indian Health Service (IHS) which did not require any state match. The second was the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which provided a grant award through the State of Alaska that required some state match. The third agency was the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the rural development program which required some state match. The largest single funder was the EPA. There were a couple of different ways that the funding was allocated. The funding that came through the State of Alaska and required a state match was allocated by the Village Safe Water Program and the DEC. The Indian Health Service funding was allocated by a national Indian health service prioritization system called the Sanitation Deficiency System. Both pots of money used the same data base of project needs. The data base of water and sewer project needs was updated yearly. There were three types of projects listed in the database. The first type was the first-time service project, a project that provided water and sewer to homes for the first time. He furthered that the total project need associated with these types of projects was slightly over $521 million. Mr. Griffith continued with the second category of project need, upgrades to address substantial health threats. The upgrades were significant improvements needed to keep existing systems operational to provide adequate water or to meet current regulations. The funding needed for upgrades was about $300 million. Mr. Griffith discussed the third category of need, upgrades to benefit system operation and address minor health threats. The amount was about $400 million. The state did not match these funds. The total funding need for the types of projects DEC provided funding for was just over $800 million. He reported that typically every year the state received about $60 million to address the state's needs. There was a significant gap between the amount of state project need and the amount of funding it received each year. 4:44:49 PM Representative Edgmon asked if an advisory group would be useful. He was thinking about the focus on the Arctic and the U.S. having the chairmanship of the Arctic Council for a couple more years. Many of the underserved communities were in the Arctic. He thought it could not hurt the cause to get additional federal funding at a time when state funding had plateaued. Mr. Griffith thought the advisory committee could be useful in raising awareness and understanding about some of these challenges in Alaska and nationally. The Department of Environmental Conservation had several things going on in relation to the Arctic Council. There was an international conference planned for September 2016 to be held in Anchorage at which DEC would be focusing on some of the challenges at the conference. An advisory committee could be tied in with the conference and other things going on. Mr. Griffith informed members that a lot of the things called for in the bill were already going on. However, there were other things on the list of deliverables that might benefit from having an advisory committee to work with. The committee would be able to keep the legislature more informed about things happening and some of the challenges that were being faced. He thought it could help the overall effort. Vice-Chair Saddler referred to Section 1, page 1, line 12. He asked about the word "sewer" system and what it encompassed. Mr. Griffith stated that it applied to whatever means an individual community had for collecting sewage from individual homes and other buildings - the collection system overall and the treatment and disposal system the community used. In some cases it could be pipes and a community lagoon and in other cases it could be referring to individual septic systems. Co-Chair Thompson thanked Mr. Griffith for his testimony. 4:48:47 PM Vice-Chair Saddler referred to the same line that stated it was the legislature's responsibility to ensure safe and sustainable water and sewer systems to all communities of the state. He thought it was a fairly broad, encompassing, and generous statement. He wondered if he meant all communities. He asked about the standards. Mr. Labolle explained that the same issue came up in the previous committee in House Community and Regional Affairs. As a result, the change was made from "individuals" in the state to "communities" in the state. The state would not have to provide for a single person at a mining camp, for example. Vice-Chair Saddler asked about a standard or a definition of what the threshold was for communities. Mr. Labolle stated that the intent of the bill was to address communities on the Village Safe Water list. Representative Guttenberg commented that in Section 2, page 3, line 19, he felt that his issue was addressed. Many of the villages he represented had water or sewer. However the only thing worse than having a sewer was having one that could not be maintained and remained broken. He appreciated hearing about maintaining the state's investments. He believed that building modern systems that were low in cost and sustainable was very important to discuss. Mr. Labolle stated that one of the main focuses was to address the fact that previous systems had been built to a standard that was not really maintainable. The state was trying to get away from systems that could not be maintained. Representative Edgmon made a humorous remark. 4:51:28 PM Co-Chair Thompson OPENED public testimony. Co-Chair Thompson CLOSED public testimony. 4:51:56 PM Vice-Chair Saddler reviewed the zero fiscal note from the Alaska Legislature. The appropriation was the Legislative council and the allocation was Council and Subcommittees. The component number from the Office of Management and Budget was 783, and the fiscal note was dated March 25, 2016. Vice-Chair Saddler MOVED to report CSHB 209 (FIN) out of Committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal note(s). There being NO OBJECTION, it was so ordered. CSHB 209 was REPORTED out of committee with a "do pass" recommendation and with a previously published zero fiscal note: FN1 (CRA). Co-Chair Thompson reviewed the agenda for the following day.