Tri-city mayors sign historic pact pledging to work together to protect Great Bay

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From left, Dover City Manager J. Michael Joyal Jr., Portsmouth City Manager Karen Conard, and Rochester City Manager Blaine Cox during a signing ceremony at Dover City Hall on Thursday. (Courtesy photo)

DOVER - The city managers of Dover, Rochester and Portsmouth were among those who on Thursday signed an intermunicipal agreement that provides a framework for the communities to collaborate with each other, regulators and stakeholders to improve water quality and reduce total nitrogen in the Great Bay estuary.

The agreement, known as the Municipal Alliance for Adaptive Management, comes after the municipalities' governing bodies agreed to opt into the Environmental Protection Agency's Great Bay Total Nitrogen General Permit (GBTN Permit) that became effective on Feb. 1. The communities opted into the GBTN Permit because it provides greater, long-term flexibility for meeting regulatory compliance and a more collaborative framework for protecting and promoting water quality throughout the Great Bay Estuary watershed.

Also on hand for the Dover signing ceremony were the interim town administrator of Milton and plant manager for the Newington Wastewater Treatment Facility. The interim town manager of Exeter plans to sign the agreement later this month.

The intermunicipal agreement allows the communities to establish and implement an adaptive management framework (AMF) set forth by the GBTN Permit. The implementation of the AMF includes collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, and private and public stakeholders, including the Conservation Law Foundation.

The Municipal Alliance, open to all communities in the Great Bay watershed, will allow the member municipalities to share expertise and monetary resources in the development and implementation of ambient water quality monitoring to determine progress and trends in Great Bay; establish a method to track total nitrogen reductions and additions; create and execute a plan for overall source reductions of total nitrogen; and build an objective, transparent and inclusive scientific record that will help guide future decisions promoting the health of Great Bay.

"This agreement allows cooperation and collaboration in deploying an adaptive management system that we have long sought to improve the health of Great Bay," said Rochester City Manager Blaine Cox after signing the agreement. "I couldn't be happier."

Dover City Manager J. Michael Joyal, Jr., agreed. "We are in an excellent position to make substantial progress for the overall health of the Great Bay. Instead of duplicating efforts, the communities in the Municipal Alliance can now work together to complement the measures we have already undertaken to protect this valuable resource."

In signing the intermunicipal agreement, Karen Conard, Portsmouth City Manager said, "The City of Portsmouth is very pleased to join the intermunicipal agreement to help foster effective collaboration among the Great Bay estuary communities, stakeholders, and state and federal regulators to improve water quality. Together we hope to have better tools for tracking pollutant reduction efforts, coordinated data gathering efforts, and cost-effective efforts to meet federal permit requirements. Working together is always better than working apart."

Newington Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator Denis Messier and Milton Interim Town Administrator Julius Peele also signed the agreement today as representatives of their communities.

The Town of Exeter's Interim Town Manager, Melissa Roy, commented that the Town of Exeter anticipates executing the Intermunicipal Agreement in the upcoming weeks. "The Town takes its commitment to protecting and enhancing the Great Bay estuary seriously, and it looks forward to collaborating with the other permittees and communities in the watershed, as well as the regulators and other involved stakeholders," said Roy.

In the years before the issuance of the GBTN General Permit, participating municipalities have reduced nitrogen discharges into the estuary through ongoing investment in wastewater technology and infrastructure. That investment includes regular upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant, stormwater management, and locating and correcting non-wastewater infiltration into the sanitary sewer system.

The Municipal Alliance sets forth the creation, purpose and authority of an Executive Board made up of the city representatives from Rochester, Portsmouth and Dover, and two at-large members from other participating municipalities. There is also a Member Committee made up of all participating municipalities.

In addition to the Municipal Alliance, the three city managers last month signed a settlement agreement with the Conservation Law Foundation that provides additional clarity to the GBTN Permit in terms of scientific benchmarks, cooperation, planning and executing pollution reduction methods for Great Bay. The CLF agreement also provides a non-voting Stakeholder Committee member to participate in the Executive Board and Member Committee meetings.

The GBTN Permit establishes total nitrogen effluent limitations, monitoring requirements, reporting requirements and standard conditions for 13 eligible wastewater treatment plants (WWTF) in New Hampshire. The WWTF covered by the permit includes Dover, Rochester, Portsmouth, Pease Tradeport (Portsmouth), Exeter, Durham, Somersworth, Newmarket, Epping, Newington, Rollinsford, Newfields and Milton. The discharge of all pollutants other than nitrogen from these WWTFs continues to be authorized by each WWTFs respective individual National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits.

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