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Corvias Solutions is in the process of retrofitting 2,000 acres of public and private land in Prince George’s County, Md., with infrastructure designed to move the county into compliance with its clean water municipal separate storm sewer (MS4) permit requirements, a goal it plans to reach by 2017. The public-private partnership between the county’s Department of the Environment and Corvias is a critical step the county is making toward reaching its goals of reducing pollution over the next 10 years and building a stormwater management industry in the county. Prince George’s County’s ultimate goal is to convert 15,000 acres of impervious surfaces into surfaces that soak up or treat rainwater, primarily by adding 46,000 stormwater devices to do the job, while simultaneously stimulating economic development.
This P3 is a Community-Based Public-Private Partnership (CBP3) model program. The model is designed to establish a long-term partnership between a municipality and a private firm or consortium to manage stormwater requirements in a more cost effective and efficient manner for the entire life cycle of the stormwater assets that are built. This approach makes a deliberate economic impact on the local disadvantaged subcontractor community. These goals are achieved by aggregating the stormwater work into a long-term design-build-finance-operate-maintain delivery model that passes cost savings and excess revenues back to the municipality. Performance goals are established to ensure that, the scope is delivered on schedule and on budget using local disadvantaged community subcontractors. Through the master program agreement, the partnership between Prince George’s County and Corvias lowered the barriers to entry for local small and disadvantaged subcontractors to enable them to compete for more work. Stormwater management is a local challenge and aggregating the work, while lowering the barriers to entry for small businesses, makes for a great local economic development formula. Truly creating a long term demand driven stormwater economy aligned with the local supply.
The CBP3 model was developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 3 office in Philadelphia through a variety of experts. The CBP3 approach and its application in Prince George’s County and the opportunities for similar collaborations in other communities will be discussed at the CBP3 Sustainable Stormwater Infrastructure Summit on Dec. 7 in Philadelphia.
As Corvias’s program moves into its eighth month, NCPPP sat down with members of the company’s Clean Water Project (CWP) team — Timothy Toohey, CWP senior vice president, Peter Littleton, CWP operations manager, and David Washington, CWP operations director — to discuss the partnership.
NCPPP: Why did Corvias Solutions pursue this P3 and what experience does the company have in conducting this or other types of stormwater management projects?
Toohey: To fulfill its agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency to treat stormwater, Prince George’s County issued a request for qualifications for the program to which Corvias Solutions responded. The county was familiar and impressed with Corvias’s success in managing military housing through the Department of Defense’s Military Housing Privatization Initiative across the country and our response to the RFQ was patterned to some extent on that model.
NCPPP: Could you describe this program and how it is being funded?
Toohey: The first phase of the program involves developing a strategy and processes for treating runoff from 2,000 water-impervious acres over three years, including on land that is privately owned. This is an interesting concept: the county is paying to make improvements to private property for the county’s benefit.
The program is designed to spend $100 million to retrofit storm infrastructure over three years during which we will retrofit 2,000 acres. If we reach this performance metric, we will take on 2,000 more. This first phase, to be completed in 2017, is part of a 30-year-term agreement through which we will maintain all of the assets that we improve.
The program is being funded through a utility storm fee —a clean water fee — that the county has been charging to all property owners for three years but the contract allows for Corvias to provide funding for it as well.
An interesting side note about the funding mechanism is that the stormwater utility fee is a fee; not a tax, which nonprofit entities, including churches, must pay. Concerned that some of these groups might have trouble paying the entire fee, the county set up an alternative compliance program through which nonprofit entities can contribute in various ways to the program and thereby earn a fee reduction.
NCPPP: Can you describe some of the P3 aspects?
Toohey: Our contract is fee-based; there are no cost-saving bonuses built in. This allows us to align our incentives with the county’s expectations rather than trying to earn revenues in a way that might put us in an adversarial position with this partner. A performance-based incentive reward is built in; Corvias receives a bonus fee if we bring the project in on schedule, within budget and meet the target-class employment goals.
NCPPP: This project is being billed as a Community-Based Public-Private Partnership (CBP3). What is a CBP3 and what are its advantages?
Toohey: CBP3 is the trade name the EPA has coined to describe P3s that focuses on community benefits such as local economic growth, job creation and subcontracting with target class businesses (i.e., small businesses that are owned by minorities, women or veterans). At Corvias, these are put into the contract as our performance based metrics. The EPA has published a guide for MS4 [Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System] permit holders, such as counties, on how to set up a CBP3.
NCPPP: As Corvias conducts its portion of this program, a separate team of county environmental staff also is working on a stormwater management project on other parcels of land. Tell us about this other team’s scope of work.
Toohey: The 2,000 acres we’re working on is only part of the overall requirement. The county is also obligated to do some retrofitting, and we’re working on parallel tracks. They’re working to retrofit 6,100 acres by 2019 and we’re helping them with planning, design and construction as needed. It’s not a competitive relationship but comparative. We’re contrasting any differences in these two teams’ approaches to see which ones work best.
NCPPP: Could you provide a brief overview of project milestones and timelines?
Toohey: The program operates under a three-year plan to complete 2,000 acres of stormwater retrofit with a trigger for an additional 2,000 acres if we meet our performance goals. We have already retrofitted property owned by a church and have about 900 acres in the planning or design phase.
NCPPP: The project calls for an emphasis on hiring a certain percentage of subcontractors from local minority-, women-, or veteran-owned businesses. Is this a difficult goal to reach? How are you recruiting the local workforce? What type of workforce training is involved?
Littleton: We have two hiring goals. The first is to ensure that 30 percent of the project’s workforce in year one consists of local businesses, to be increased at a rate of 5 percent in years two and three. The company has also committed to ensuring that local residents will comprise 15 percent of the workforce in year one and will reach 50 percent by the end of year three. We’ve already well exceeded that goal, currently tracking 85 percent.
Washington: The project also includes workforce development components to help us reach these goals. Corvias and the CBP3 program have a mentor/protégé program to which small target businesses can apply. Corvias also provides a contractor concierge service. We hire design and general contractor firms and facilitate their inclusion of these target businesses by helping determine how they can participate; provide direct support and coaching and support and aid them in the contractor procurement and pre-qualification process, thus allowing the businesses to better compete for work as subcontractors on this project.
Corvias is using existing county resources to develop a skill development program that will identify and train workers to create the pipeline to supply this burgeoning industry with the needed skilled labor to execute and perform the tasks required to build, operate and maintain the best management practices utilized in the CBP3 program. Further, we are supporting the development of a career-laddering track for the low-impact development /green infrastructure sector by local experts that is, needed for the long-term sustainability of a green infrastructure industry in the county.
Toohey: The workforce development component of the program is going well. We have a full-time contractor development coordinator who provides mentorship to local businesses, helping them get certified and eligible to work on the projects. The county is very pleased with it.
Littleton: This P3 aligns with Corvias’s core principles: to give generously back to communities in which we work and serve, by hiring local, target-class businesses. We’ve had success rates in this area in our military housing projects of up to 80 percent. This aspect of the Prince George’s project is another reason we responded to the RFQ; this project lets us focus on that
NCPPP: What type of stakeholder/community engagement is Corvias conducting to educate the community about the project and ensure its widespread acceptance?
Washington: We have a community outreach manager who is dedicated to this project. She regularly visits the neighborhoods in which we’re working to let residents know what we are doing, how, where and why and how long the construction will affect them. She also makes school visits to describe the program. And we post signs and markers that remind residents not to release substances into sewer vents that can pollute the stormwater.
Toohey: We have achieved a key metric that we set for this P3 by forging a very strong, bilateral relationship with the county — our main stakeholder — to ensure that it views us not as a contractor but as an extension of its department and are there to give them access to expertise and resources they otherwise wouldn’t have. We work in the department’s building and are an elevator ride away. That was one of our expressed metrics for this program.
NCPPP: What lessons have you learned that might inform future work in Prince George’s County and elsewhere?
Toohey: There are so many different dimensions to this project. We’ve been learning about what’s important to the county, such as the economic development component. We’ve also learned that changes in politics at the state or county level aren’t likely to affect adoption of the CBP3 approach. This program was launched under a Democratic governor who has since been succeeded by a Republican administration and both of them like this P3. The previous governor appreciated the economic development and community engagement aspects of it. The current governor likes the lower cost, increased efficiency, and business-friendly approach the program provides.
Littleton: We learn from every P3 we do because we customize each one to meet the customer’s goals. No one project is exactly the same as the ones that preceded it.
The CBP3 Sustainable Stormwater Infrastructure Summit on Dec. 7 in Philadelphia will include Corvias Solutions representatives, Environmental Protection Agency officials and a variety of other stormwater management experts. The event will be cohosted by NCPPP and EPA. For more information and to register, visit the event website.