By Greg Cannito — April 20, 2016
This is not an article about why water and wastewater utilities should consider a public-private partnership (P3) to deliver urban stormwater infrastructure projects. As you surely know, a P3 appeals to many municipalities for their ability to leverage private sector expertise and efficiencies — and shoulder financial risk — for delivery of what would traditionally be a public sector project.
Instead, this is an article about how an alternative contracting approach with a private partner can deliver more financial value and long term sustainability for your stormwater program, by securing new sources of funding, such as State Revolving Funds. My recent experiences illuminate this approach: The Clean Water Partnership has applied to become the first-ever stormwater P3 to obtain financing through a private partner by leveraging State Revolving Funds (SRF). First, I’ll give some background on the Clean Water Partnership, and then I’ll share why accessing this funding stream is so significant both for our project and potentially for your work too.
Signed in March 2015, the Clean Water Partnership is a long-term public-private partnership between Prince George’s County, Maryland, and Corvias Solutions, to retrofit up to 4,000 acres of impervious surfaces using green infrastructure and low-impact development practices in the first three years and operate and maintain over the remaining life of the 30-year partnership. Corvias intends to deliver compliant, sustainable stormwater infrastructure with accelerated timelines and reduced costs, in accordance with Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and U.S. EPA standards. Best of all, the partnership is centered around economic development goals for small business training, development and utilization of local, small and minority-owned businesses. The goal of the partnership is to not just meet federal and state regulatory clean water requirements, but to do so with tangible economic development benefits for the local community.
As part of the Clean Water Partnership agreement, the private partner is responsible for long-term maintenance. Corvias expects to work with the County for the next 30 years, so we’re constantly assessing how to provide the kind of customer service that strengthens a relationship over the decades. With that frame of mind, we uncovered the opportunity for the Partnership to apply for non-point source SRF funding from MDE for $48 million to fund half of the costs of the Clean Water Partnership program.
MDE’s Water Quality Revolving Loan Fund (also known as the State Revolving Fund) provides below-market rate loans to encourage capital investments in water projects, in accordance with the Federal Clean Water Act and the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Up until now, State Revolving Funds have primarily been used to fund construction of wastewater treatment plants. However, exploratory conversations with MDE revealed the historical barriers to utilizing State Revolving Funds for stormwater management.
State Revolving Funds offer a lower interest rates to regulated communities and even lower interest rates to Disadvantaged Communities equal to 25 percent of the market rate, for an all-in rate of 1.20 percent (compared to the standard rate of 50 percent of the Market Rate, 2.00 percent). This saves over $9 million compared to typical municipal debt financing.
Since Prince George’s County meets the Disadvantaged Community criteria, what was already attractive became even more critical to pursue. Other appealing benefits to Prince George’s County for accessing the SRF debt through the Clean Water Partnership with Corvias Solutions included:
Best of all, if the funding is awarded, Prince George’s County will lead the nation in the first-ever stormwater P3 financing through a private partner using State Revolving Funds.
While many types of P3 structures exist, the private partner in the relationship has traditionally not sought out state financing for the public partner. However, Prince George’s County and Corvias could not let this opportunity slip by.
While MDE’s financing program had not been invested in a significant amount of stormwater work previously due to the piecemealed nature of stormwater project delivery, the aggregated nature of the Clean Water Partnerships delivery structure and their ability to execute larger scopes in a shorter period of time enabled the $48 million loan application—and the combination of cost of capital, flexible terms, and its unique characteristics made it the optimal source of financing available to fund the large volume of stormwater projects.
We hope our application is successful for the Clean Water Partnership, and we hope this idea of public private partnerships accessing alternative low cost funding for large scaled stormwater projects through State Revolving loans can be a similarly appealing and more cost effective solution for other local governments around the country.
Greg Cannito is managing director of Corvias Solutions, where he oversees application of Corvias’ innovative P3 model to challenges faced by public institutions nationwide. Greg was instrumental in developing the Clean Water Partnership, the first P3 to address stormwater at this scale. He served on the “Private Financing for Public Utilities” panel at UIM’s Water Finance Conference in September 2015. Contact Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org.