The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and others are coming to the realization that public-private partnerships, or P3s, are one solution to regional problems like stormwater pollution. Going it alone is not always the best course of action, especially when it comes to dealing with problems that are on a regional or watershed scale. Take stormwater pollution, for instance. A borough may be able to install infrastructure to reduce the amount of soil and nutrients getting into ABC Creek, but what if the township upstream of them does nothing? What is a P3? A public-private partnership is an agreement between one or more public and private sector entities to do something better together than could be done alone. It typically involves providing a public asset or service, such as a private operator managing a water treatment plant or parking meter system. Common elements of P3s are the sharing of risk and cost so that no one organization has to bear the full burden. This cooperation helps to drive innovation and build strong long-term relationships. The Benefits Municipalities have a lot to gain from entering into a P3. For instance, they are better able to leverage public funds while minimizing their debt. They can access new technologies that might not be available through standard procurement procedures. And they gain access to private capital, removing the need to wait for the cumbersome government budget process to pay for infrastructure projects. These are just a few of the benefits waiting for municipalities to capitalize on for their upcoming stormwater management projects. Examples For many years, the Department of Defense has been involved in P3s. For instance, a military base signed an agreement with a nearby municipality to share library services, rather than each have their own library. Both benefited from being able to use the library without having to pay for and maintain two separate ones. Another base partnered with a municipality to use the existing sewage treatment plant, rather than build and maintain their own. The municipality gained extra revenue and the base was able to use the savings to construct another facility on-site. The EPA’s Involvement The EPA is newer to the P3 realm than the DOD, but that doesn’t mean they are not strongly interested in it. Jon Capacasa, who recently retired from the EPA Region 3 office in Philadelphia, said that “private entities can move more rapidly and have more flexibility” to purchase land in private hands in order to install stormwater best management practices. When the government tries to do this, he added, it’s a “government procurement nightmare.” P3s will be especially important for Pennsylvania, which lags behind the other Chesapeake Bay watershed states in meeting its Total Maximum Daily Load requirements. People like Capacasa believe that the state will never be able to hit that mark without creative, nongovernmental solutions. You can learn more about the EPA’s work through their Community Based Public-Private Partnerships Guide for Local Governments document, located on the EPA’s website. The Future of P3s in PA LandStudies is excited to work with the EPA on bringing P3 solutions to south-central Pennsylvania and beyond. In the coming weeks we will announce an exciting new effort to help our Municipal Separate Storm Sewer communities meet their TMDL requirements through innovative cost-sharing agreements with private sector entities. Stay tuned for more information!
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