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Building Community Support through Effective Stakeholder Engagement

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In response to a federal Consent Decree entered into federal court in August of 2005, the Louisville and Jefferson County Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) developed an Integrated Overflow Abatement Plan (IOAP) to control the community's combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs). The Consent Decree contained a provision for stakeholders to participate in the development and implementation of the Long-Term Control Plan and the Sanitary Sewer Discharge Plan. Recognizing that the development of the IOAP Program would represent a major investment for the community, MSD expanded the influence of the stakeholder group to assist in developing community support for the investments necessary to comply with the Consent Decree requirements.

In accordance with the Consent Decree, a “Wet Weather Team“ (WWT) was formed that included a group of 19 community stakeholders. To ensure that the stakeholder group would have broad community credibility, the WWT members selected were community opinion leaders associated with environmental advocacy groups, academia, business and industry, elected officials, local government department heads, neighborhood groups, environmental justice advocates, and other representative stakeholders.

Under the guidance of professional facilitation, MSD and the Wet Weather Team met 22 times between July 2006 and December 2008. The Wet Weather Team identified community values to underpin the analysis and selection of alternatives for the IOAP. The values included projectspecific values (such as public health enhancement, regulatory compliance, environmental enhancement and asset protection) and programmatic values (including customer satisfaction, financial stewardship, and environmental justice and equity).

Driven by the values-based benefit-cost analysis, the Final IOAP reflects a balanced mix of green and gray solutions to control combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and eliminate sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs). “Green” solutions include options such as green roofs, rain gardens, rain barrels, porous pavement, and bioretention, while “gray” solutions include options such as storage, treatment, conveyance/transport, and sewer separation. The stakeholder group was highly supportive of a balanced green/gray approach, especially since the community values evaluation approach allowed consideration of a broader range of evaluation factors. These factors supported a wider application of green infrastructure than would be expected from traditional evaluation approaches. Ultimately, the stakeholders, on a full consensus bases, prepared and transmitted to the MSD Board a memorandum indicating the full support for the IOAP.

The structured stakeholder engagement process resulted in numerous benefits to MSD, often exceeding the goals defined when the stakeholder process was being developed. Elected officials who were members of the stakeholder group (both Republican and Democrat) co-sponsored a resolution authorizing a 33 percent rate increase to support Consent Decree implementation. The resolution passed with an overwhelming majority, as a result of bi-partisan support, support from a wide variety of special interest groups, and a total lack of any organized opposition to the rate increase. Similarly, the members of the stakeholder group, and the organizations and constituencies they represented, publicly supported the plan when it was released for public comment in October 2008 and again when MSD submitted the plan to the US Department of Justice, US EPA Region 4 and Kentucky Environmental Protection Cabinet in December 2008.
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Keywords: Public participation; consensus-building; partnering; public outreach; stakeholders; success!

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-01-01

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