How leveraging private sector resources for green infrastructure can achieve multiple public goals

November 28, 2017

When Nikita Floyd was 11 years old, his father took him to a job site in a low-income area of Washington D.C. and put him to work picking up trash and mowing lawns. At the time, Floyd says he didn’t want to do that kind of work for a living because, “I didn’t get paid for it, it was a chore.”

But when he grew up, Floyd recognized an opportunity. He launched his own landscaping firm, Green Forever, and was eventually awarded “Business of the Year” in 2014 by the Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce.

One of Green Forever’s signature services is something Floyd’s father likely never would have dreamed of. Floyd specializes in maintaining green infrastructure–the constructed wetlands, porous concrete, and bioswales increasingly being built across the nation to help manage stormwater.

Floyd came to the work through a “Mentor/Protege” program developed by Prince George’s County, Maryland as part of its commitment to assisting local and minority-owned businesses. The program was part of an effort to comply with a federal mandate to reduce polluted stormwater runoff draining to the Chesapeake Bay.

Prince George’s county didn’t just want to comply with a federal mandate. Instead, county leaders sought a more holistic solution to the problem. The county wanted not only to reduce its polluted stormwater, but also to help the community along the way.
The ‘high road’: A community benefits public-private partnership.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the total investment gap for water and wastewater infrastructure in the United States is expected to be $105 billion by 2025. Increasingly, public agencies are looking to the private sector as a new way to help pay for underfunded public services and infrastructure.

Sanjiv Sinha, Ph.D., is a vice-president with Ann Arbor-based consulting firm Environmental Consulting & Technology, Inc. (ECT). With funding from the Great Lakes Protection Fund, Sinha is pioneering the application of market-based business concepts to stormwater work. He is leading market sizing studies and development of business plans for the use of these new concepts in the Great Lakes basin. His work is profiled in at www.p3greatlakes.org, a resource dedicated to assessing and, where appropriate, promoting the use of public-private partnerships (P3s) in the Great Lakes basin.

“Traditionally, looking at private sector has meant working with private investment to pay up-front costs for projects, allowing public agencies to build more quickly than slow public bonds would allow, and hopefully leveraging private sector efficiencies to lower cost”, Says Sinha. “But new P3 models go beyond this to combine private finance with project delivery, management, and maintenance, even linking outcomes to project performance and social goals.”

Prince George’s County entered into a novel kind of partnership agreement with a Rhode Island-based Corvias Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in public-private partnerships for building and managing public infrastructure projects.

The Clean Water Partnership is a Community-Based Public-Private Partnership (CBP3) between the county and Corvias Solutions. Through the 30-year agreement, Corvias executes and performs the finance, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the Prince George’s County’s stormwater management programs. This means an entirely new approach to building new infrastructure–one that looks beyond water to solving additional challenges identified in the community.

“We sign on to achieve the goals built from a delivery standpoint, but also broader policy objectives, and we assume the risk,” says Greg Cannito, a managing director with Corvias. “For example, in our performance-based system, it’s not just about delivering work on time and under budget. We also have socio-economic workforce development hiring goals.”

Prince George’s County was under a court order to meet EPA Clean Water regulatory requirements, which requires it to treat 15,000 acres of polluted runoff by 2025. As part of this goal, CWP has been tasked with treating up to 2,000 acres of these impervious surfaces by constructing green infrastructure on both public and private land. Prince George’s County set additional requirements to utilize certified local, small, minority and women-owned businesses for 30–40 percent of the total project scope.
 

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