December 30. 2014


NJ: A New Jersey bid to privatize water without public votes. Until now, any municipality in New Jersey that sought to sell off its water system to a private bidder had to hold a public vote. But a bill passed with bipartisan support by the state’s Senate last week would allow municipalities with aging and deteriorating water systems to put their systems up for sale without holding a referendum. While supporters of the bill say privatizing water systems could save municipalities money, it allows companies to factor the purchase price of the systems into the rates they charge customers, meaning taxpayers could ultimately be on the hook for the sale of their water systems. Al Jazeera America

DC: Toll lanes lead way to major expansion of highway capacity in Virginia and Maryland. On Monday, the 95 Express Lanes will become high-occupancy toll lanes, combining with the 2-year-old HOT lanes on the Capital Beltway to form a network stretching from the outer suburbs in Stafford County, Va., to the office buildings and shopping centers of Tysons Corner. . . . Meanwhile, Maryland this fall completed the Intercounty Connector, which now stretches between Route 1 in Prince George’s County and Interstate 370 in Montgomery County. The state also opened the I-95 Express Toll Lanes along a congested portion of the interstate northeast of Baltimore. The District Department of Transportation announced in 2014 that it would study the possibility of adding HOT lanes to freeways stretching from I-295 at the Maryland border to the 14th Street Bridge. Highway users will note that the various programs have one thing in common: tolls. Washington Post

CO: U.S. Forest Service set to allow oil, gas drilling in — not on — Pawnee National Grassland in Weld County. The U.S. Forest Service’s recent “no surface occupancy” stipulation for developing oil and gas leases on more than 100,000 acres within Pawnee National Grassland is receiving a lukewarm reception from energy industry officials and environmental groups, especially as a policy precedent for drilling other federal lands. . . . Nichols said while the requirement precludes fracking, building well pads, roads, structures, or storing equipment on newly leased lands within the Pawnee Grassland — all important concessions — the Forest Service has adopted a “split-the-baby approach” that doesn’t address how off-site development could impact air and water quality and wildlife. . . . WildEarth Guardians and other groups want the Forest Service to extend its regulatory oversight to horizontal drilling sites on adjacent private lands in a “buffer” around the grasslands, but Reghan Cloudman, spokesperson for the Forest Service’s office in Fort Collins, said the agency’s land-use authority is limited to the grassland. Greeley Tribune

IL: New year to bring 40% toll increase for truckers. On Jan. 1, three years after tolls for passenger cars nearly doubled on the Illinois Tollway, rates for trucks and trailers will jump by 40 percent. That’s only the beginning. Two more 10 percent increases will kick in over the next two years, and beginning in 2018, annual toll rate increases for trucks and trailers will be linked to the consumer price index. The higher tolls are paying for the Tollway’s massive 15-year, $12 billion rebuilding and widening program called Move Illinois. The impact on the price of trucked goods is debated, however. Chicago Tribune

MS: State contract recommendations revealed. A governor-appointed task force reviewing corrections contracts in the wake of an alleged bribery scheme will recommend 12 actions, most with statewide implications, to prevent future contract abuse. The recommendations appear in a preliminary report (posted below this story) due Wednesday to Gov. Phil Bryant by the Task Force on Contracting and Procurement in the Mississippi Department of Corrections. The task force met Monday to finalize the report, and provided copies to the public. Three of the group’s proposals relate solely to MDOC, including: the cancelation of all no-bid MDOC contracts lasting more than six months; the elimination of all statutory bid exemptions for MDOC contracts; and the independent reviews of several areas of corrections operations.   Jackson Clarion Ledger

PA: Who says private utilities are better than city-owned? Despite all the claims by Philadelphia business leaders and Mayor Nutter allies that City Council President Darrell Clarke’s refusal to sell the Philadelphia Gas Works to Connecticut-based UIL has set back the already-battered cause of private business and hopes for a petro-based heavy-industry renaissance here, the national trend is actually in favor of “municipalization” of public utilities and away from private utility operators, as America emerges from recession and urban finances improve, writes veteran utility analyst Ryan M. Connors in a recent report to clients of Philadelphia-based Janney Capital Markets. The cities of Fort Wayne, Ind., and Nashua, N.H. have lately forced private, publicly-traded, for-profit utilities to sell their water systems and put them under citizen control, and Claremont, Calif. voters have approved borrowing money to buy back their own, Connors notes. (blog)

VA: Virginia toll lanes offer drivers convenience, but raise privacy concerns. . . The new system has set up 24/7 video surveillance to monitor whether or not motorists are obeying the high occupancy vehicle lane rules. But those images are stored in the system and can be accessed with a warrant, according to Mike McGurk, a senior corporate relations associate with Transurban, the Australian company that built the express lanes through a private-public partnership and which operates the technology used on the lanes. Washington Times