Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Big Daddy Spanks Jack Johnson Over WSSC (Updated)

Senate President Mike Miller is getting fed up with the problems at WSSC. Following is a letter he wrote to Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson (referenced by the Post) in which he calls for "quick and decisive action" and "a WSSC that is ethical and competent."

Miller has long been concerned about WSSC. In 2005, he called turmoil at the agency a "cancer" and said, "Public confidence in the ability of this board to govern is nonexistent." Judging by the contemptuous reaction of Johnson's staff, Miller may have to take direct action to fix the agency. And if Big Daddy is serious, we will be cheering him on every step of the way.

Update: Miller offers more in the Gazette, including this beauty: "In another year we'll have another county executive and, hopefully, a better working relationship between the county executives and the commissioners." Youch!

June 15, 2009

The Honorable Jack Johnson
Office of the County Executive
County Administration Building
14741 Governor Oden Bowie Drive
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772

Dear County Executive Johnson:

I am writing to express my grave concerns and frustration as to the level of total incompetence at the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (“WSSC”). As you know, in Prince George’s County, we are surrounded by the Patuxent River, the Potomac River, numerous tributaries of these rivers, and the accompanying watersheds that flow directly into these very environmentally sensitive areas.

Given the importance of these areas, it was truly beyond belief that, on May 11, 2009, 30,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled into a direct tributary of the Potomac River, the Piscataway Creek. Incredibly, on June 4, 2009, another 30,500 gallons of raw sewages spilled directly into the Piscataway Creek. This means that in less than one month, over 60,000 gallons of raw sewage has been allowed to pour directly into Piscataway Creek. This is not only incomprehensible, it is unacceptable.

I believe one of the most critical roles of government officials is to serve as stewards of our environment. The health and safety of our citizens depends upon our ability to protect the air and the water quality in the county. Additionally, it is not fair or equitable for one county to be allowed to have raw sewage polluting the rivers and tributaries that go beyond its own borders.

These recent events confirm that the WSSC has sunk to levels of incompetence that we should all be embarrassed to see. The needs have been well documented and yet WSSC Commissioners representing our County have sat idly by, while pipe after pipe has burst. Now, during the worst recession we have seen since the Great Depression, they raise rates by 9%. This rate increase coincides with public disclosure of thousands of dollars of ratepayer funds being used by WSSC members to pay for things such as political and charitable events. All during a time when there still is no General Manager of the Agency. Given this information, why on earth should we or the citizens of this County believe that they need the rate increase or even know how to address these serious issues with additional funds?

It is far past time for a massive overhaul of this agency. We cannot simply shrug our shoulders and accept delays and excuses for things such as raw sewage flowing into sensitive environmental areas again and again. I would, therefore, formally call upon you to act in your official oversight roles to take the reigns of this situation.

The first step must be the expeditious appointment of a General Manager, who possesses the sufficient credentials and expertise to take over the agency and resolve these issues immediately. Next, the County Council should call for hearings and demand a comprehensive plan for an effective resolution of these matters, as soon as possible. The use of ratepayer funds for questionable activities by WSSC members should also be reviewed. If these issues cannot be addressed at the local level by the time the General Assembly convenes in January, State legislators cannot in good conscience allow things to continue as they have been.

I look forward to your decisive and quick action and am willing to assist you in these efforts in any manner possible. Thank you for your consideration of my concerns and I would further ask that you please advise me as soon as possible as to actions the County plans to take in this matter. The citizens of our County deserve a healthy environment in which to live and raise their families and they deserve a WSSC that is ethical and competent.


Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr.

cc: Prince George’s County Council