Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Another real-life test for quake early-warning tech … Vermont leaders see a hotspot for blockchain … and a not-so-secret “secret” DMV in N.C.
Good morning, it’s Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. Water-related news leads Route Fifty’s state and local government news roundup today, but scroll down for an assortment of state and local news, including stories from places like La Verne, California; Gallatin County, Montana; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Hendersonville, Tennessee.
WATER | Two major water utilities in Michigan, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and the Great Lakes Water Authority, scrambled on Wednesday to assuage concerns about water quality following a decision by the Detroit Public Schools Community District to turn off water at its buildings across the district due to concerns over elevated lead and copper levels that turned up in on-site water tests. The water, according to Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, will remain off “until a deeper and broader analysis can be conducted to determine the long-term solutions for all schools.” The water utilities, which serve the city of Detroit and customers across much of southeastern Michigan, say the problems lie in building pipes at the schools, not in the pipes and systems that deliver water to the schools. In a joint DWSD-GLWA statement, the agencies said: “The treated drinking water provided by GLWA and distributed by DWSD not only meets, but surpasses all federal and state Safe Drinking Water Act regulations for quality and safety. The water at GLWA’s treatment plants is tested hourly and DWSD has no lead service lines connected to any DPSCD building. The drinking water is of unquestionable quality. GLWA and DWSD stand ready to provide any technical assistance to DPSCD.” [Detroit Free Press; Michigan Radio]
- Flint, Michigan: Meanwhile in Flint … “The highest-ranking official to face criminal charges for the Flint water crisis is still on active duty as the director of Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services. And in the state’s aggressive but slow-moving investigation of itself, the public is paying the courtroom costs—all of them.” [CityLab]
- Cape Coral, Florida: City officials are working with a local company that hopes to figure out a way to ease Florida’s ongoing red tide and toxic algae crisis by testing the “company's nonpatented biological formulas” on samples taken from impacted waterways. [Fort Myers News-Press]
- Vermilion, Illinois: Local residents want the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to order a cleanup of millions of cubic yards of toxic coal ash sitting adjacent to a federally protected tributary of the Illinois River. [WBEZ]
- Steelton, Pennsylvania: Local officials in this borough near Harrisburg signed off on a plan this week that would allow Pennsylvania American Water, a private water company, to take over publicly-owned local water system. [The Patriot-News / PennLive]
TECH & DATA | Tuesday’s magnitude 4.4 earthquake east of Los Angeles, which was centered near the city of La Verne and was widely felt across Southern California, didn’t end up causing any damage, but did offer up another successful real-life test of earthquake early-warning technology that’s in limited use in parts of the seismically active Golden State and elsewhere on the West Coast. During a news conference following the quake, seismologist Lucy Jones showed how the system gave three seconds worth of warning before shaking was felt at a CalTech lab in Pasadena. In some earthquake scenarios, like the dreaded future Big One on the southern San Andreas Fault, early-warning alerts—which can travel faster than damaging seismic waves—could provide Los Angeles with up to a minute of warning. But they’re less useful when epicenters are located in or closer to urbanized areas. [Los Angeles Times; @RobertNBCLA; Route Fifty]
- El Paso, Texas: City officials on Wednesday showed off El Paso’s first cycle track, something that includes sensors “specifically designed to detect bicyclists and activate their designated traffic signals, which affords cyclists with the right-of-way necessary to cross the intersections safely.” [City of El Paso]
- Montpelier, Vermont: Gov. Phil Scott, state lawmakers and business leaders in the Green Mountain State “hope a newly minted law will make Vermont a hotspot for blockchain technology and companies that want to use it.” [VTDigger]
- Gallatin County, Montana: The mapping department in this south-central Montana county has released a new mapping tool that “could be helpful for parents who sometimes don’t know what school district they live in, which can result in paying taxes to one district and sending students to school in another.” [Bozeman Daily Chronicle; Gallatin County]
STATE GOVERNMENT | The California State Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to S.B. 100, which would put the Golden State on a track to phase out fossil fuels and require that the state have 100 percent of its energy come from renewable sources. The bill, sponsored by State Sen. Kevin de Leon, is now headed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk for his consideration. But the climate-minded governor “hasn’t said whether he’ll sign it,” according to The Sacramento Bee. A 100-percent renewable power grid “is definitely feasible,” according to Severin Borenstein, faculty director of the Energy Institute at UC Berkeley. “The question is, how expensive is it going to be.” [S.B. 100; Los Angeles Times; The Sacramento Bee]
- Portland, Oregon: The Illinois-based Liberty Justice Center, which brought the landmark Janus union-dues case to the U.S. Supreme Court, is “threatening to sue the state of Oregon, the City of Portland and Portland Public Schools if they don't stop collecting union dues and agency fees from workers' paychecks.” [The Oregonian / OregonLive; Capital Press / Portland Tribune]
- Washington, D.C.: Attention states that have legalized marijuana: The Trump administration’s Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee “wants to counteract positive marijuana messages and identify problems with state legalization initiatives.” [BuzzFeed News]
- Seattle, Washington: The Washington State Department of Transportation is working to patch up a hole in the pavement of an important bridge that carries Interstate 5 over the Lake Washington Ship Canal, a span that’s used by approximately 250,000 vehicles daily. A WSDOT spokeswoman: “We do have plans to do a complete deck rebuild, but we don’t have funds available until 2026.” [The Seattle Times]
- Raleigh, North Carolina: The commissioner of the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles announced that a special DMV bureau that state workers in Raleigh used will be discontinued. The move comes after a Charlotte television station described the set up as “secret,” though it hasn’t exactly been a secret. The controversy over the North Carolina DMV’s “by invitation-only driver's license bureau” for state employees comes as the public has complained of long wait times for DMV services at branches due to the rush to get licenses that are compliant with the federal REAL ID Act. The state has dispatched mobile units to DMV offices elsewhere to help meet the demand for services. [WBTV; NCCapitol / WRAL; AP via WLOS]
- Austin, Texas: The Sunset Advisory Commission has thrown cold water on a Texas Department of Public Safety proposal to shutter 87 driver’s license offices across the Lone Star State “but recommended a third-party study to determine which agency should issue licenses.” [Texas Tribune]
LOCAL GOVERNMENT | New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio launched a new commuter ferry service connecting Long Island City in Queens and Wall Street with three stops in Manhattan along the East River. The de Blasio administration has rolled out a handful of other ferry routes, including a recently launched route to the Bronx. But ferry skeptics have criticized the high subsidies the city needs to operate the vessels—$6.60 per passenger—and the need to address long-standing transportation needs elsewhere in the city, which is challenging, for sure, given the New York state government’s authority over the subways. Benjamin Kabak, the longtime Second Avenue Sagas transit blogger and N.Y.C. transportation observer, writes for Curbed that the city “needs to reclaim its transit future” but “ferries are a niche mode of low-capacity transportation and a distraction from far more pressing problems.” [NYC.gov; Gothamist; amNY; Curbed]
- St. Paul, Minnesota: Mayor Melvin Carter, during remarks on Wednesday about library budgets, said he wants to do away with late fines. [Pioneer Press / TwinCities.com]
- Hendersonville, Tennessee: The Board of Mayor and Aldermen in this city northeast of Nashville voted on Tuesday to have a committee study the possibility of creating a city administrator position. [Tennessean]
- Bridgeton, New Jersey: Cumberland County prosecutors say that a former city councilwoman and former housing authority commissioner embezzled $22,000 from the Bridgeton Housing Authority. [The Press of Atlantic City]
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Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.