The U.S. Senate's override on November 8 of President Bush's veto of the Water Resources Development Act was welcome news to Ron Nunes, owner of R.T. Nunes & Sons and president of the Utility Contractors Association of Rhode Island.
"This bill will be of enormous benefit to the people of this country," said the Coventry, R.I.-based contractor. "President Bush has other items on his plate to steer money to, but in New England, our infrastructure is the oldest in the United States and needs to be repaired," he said.
"UCARI wholeheartedly supports the legislation just passed by the Senate. This is not about utility contractors having work, this is about public health and safety. It'll protect people through updating infrastructure in cities like Providence, which is a half-billion dollars behind just taking care of what's already in the ground."
Nunes had spoken out about the poor condition of Rhode Island's infrastructure during a UCARI meeting in Providence on September 25, a meeting attended by top officials of the National Utility Contractors Association and one which took place just a day after a conference committee was created to work out differences between Senate and House versions of the bill. The reconciled bill was passed by Congress but vetoed by President Bush. Subsequently, both the House and Senate overrode the president's veto and the bill became law on November 9.
A national grassroots initiative of the Clean Water Council (CWC), a coalition of some 30 construction industry organizations, is believed to have helped spur Congress to pass the legislation. NUCA CEO Bill Hillman briefed the 60 UCARI members attending the September meeting about the initiative, a campaign to raise awareness about America's deteriorating water infrastructure and mobilize the public to demand that Congress do something about it.
Hillman was keynote speaker for the meeting, and focused his address on "Water Infrastructure Problems in the Nation and Rhode Island and What Congress Needs to Do." He was accompanied by NUCA President James King and Vice President of Government Relations Eben Wyman.
NUCA President King expressed his concern about the nation's underground infrastructure especially in Rhode Island, noting the Northeast has the nation's oldest underground infrastructure that carries vital utilities to millions of people.
"While the Minnesota bridge collapse was an indication of the failure to provide proper and needed funding for roads and bridges, the same should be said far more rigorously for our underground infrastructure." King said. He also expressed his appreciation for UCARI's visible and vocal support. "UCARI is and has been extremely vocal and active nationally and you should all be commended for your efforts.
UCARI President Nunes cautioned members not to be complacent. "Are we going to wait for an incident of the magnitude of the Minnesota bridge collapse happening to our underground utilities for us to react?" Nunes asked. He added that while the actions of NUCA and state chapters such as UCARI have made a significant impact on Congress, and "they are listening to us, we cannot stop here," he said.
UCARI Executive Director Bob Lafleur, who is also chairman of NUCA's Executive Directors Council, thanked the national staff for their continued legislative push for additional Clean Water funding and other issues facing the underground utility industry.
The recently passed bill authorizes $23 billion for protecting the nation's water resources, but it does not appropriate any money. That is the next hurdle to be overcome by the construction industry.