Democratic candidate for MWRD commissioner: Martin J. Durkan
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On Feb. 22, Martin J. Durkan appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District in the March 2018 primary:
My name is Martin J. Durkan and I am a current commissioner at the Water Reclamation District, I ran in the last cycle for the two-year vacancy and was successful. Part of my background is I’m also a business representative with Local 150, they’re the heavy equipment operators and my position there is I deal with the municipalities throughout the county, I negotiate public works contracts and deal with the public works groups throughout the county. They obviously have a direct correlation with the Water Reclamation District so the relationships I’ve been able to develop over the years are very helpful with streamlining stuff for the district.
I think it’s multi-layered, but if I was to prioritize one I think it’s flooding. Obviously we have a lot of issues throughout the county especially in this last week with the heavy rains we had and the snow melt off. We’re going in the right direction but there’s a lot of work that remains to be done. Finishing of the TARP tunnels system will be vital to helping people’s basements and businesses from flooding. But we also have to strategically look into green infrastructure and make sure that we’re utilizing it in the right way. We can’t just have a broad bank effect…we want to do green infrastructure everywhere, we need to make sure because we’re a clay based ground, that we’re putting it where it’s most effective. Our engineering department and the folks at the district are very professional, they’re very good to work with. The staff we have is top notch and them decisions I think will be the most important going forward over the next ten years or so.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the Chicago area. Martin J. Durkan submitted the following responses to our questionnaire:
QUESTION: The new Riverwalk has made the Chicago River a popular recreation destination, but surveys show that the river’s water still contains high levels of bacteria from sewage. What further steps should the MWRD take to improve the quality of the river’s water? Is the public being sufficiently informed on this matter, particularly as it relates to public health?
ANSWER: Preventing CSOs is essential to address the issue of sewage and bacteria into the Chicago River. The tools the District can apply to address this issue are many. Investment in infrastructure (green and grey) to increase capacity and increase the amount of rain and waste water collected is important for the addressing CSO’s. Also, the public education portion started this year with the “Overflow Action Days” informing the public not to use water unnecessarily on days when it rains is something we need to do to help make conscientious stewards of the River out of all residents.
To the second part of the question, there is still more work to do and I will continue educate residents of Cook County about the importance of Overflow Action days as well as working with community groups to help explain the nuances of this problem.
Martin J. Durkan
Running for: Democratic nomination for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, 6-year term
Political/civic background: Commissioner MWRD Elected 2016;
Occupation: Business Representative International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150
Education: Ballinrobe Christian Brothers School
Campaign website: friendsformarty.com
QUESTION: Could the MWRD do a better job of working with other government agencies in the Chicago area to manage watersheds? If so, how would you make that happen? What innovations at other sewage districts across the country would you like to bring to Chicago?
ANSWER: Yes, there is always room for improvement. We are already creating partnerships between the MWRD and local governments to address issues facing our Watershed. As an elected official I try to work with other elected officials to let them know the MWRD is here as a resource. Currently, we have a Green Infrastructure matching program with municipalities to address water issues. This is something we ought to double down on in the future. Looking outward to other districts, some of the projects that has been relayed to the board about nutrient trading and biogas uses are intriguing and I think we should explore.
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QUESTION: The MWRD is Cook County’s second largest landowner. The Sun-Times and the BGA have reported on troubling pollution seeping or otherwise being emitted from MWRD properties in recent years. What more can be done to ensure that companies leasing land are good environmental stewards?
ANSWER: This should not happen. I would push for clauses in all leases going forward that ensure that tenants are good stewards of the environment. For currently leased land, I would work with those lessees to try to mitigate their environmental damage.
QUESTION: Do you support the changes made in the revised Watershed Management Ordinance? What would you have included? What would you have left out?
ANSWER: I appreciate the work of our staff and the recommendations they put forward. That said as this is an ordinance and is a piece of public policy, I believe we should constantly reexamine what is going on and use performance measures to ensure that this is effective in protecting our environment.
QUESTION: Do you think the board of commissioners is sufficiently knowledgeable about the corporate purpose of the MWRD? Is the board properly informed on issues that come before it?
ANSWER: When, I first got elected with Commissioner Morita, we worked to ensure that information was being delivered in a timely manner to the entire board beforehand. I offered, after one of my first meetings, changes to our by-laws to hold subject based committee meetings to help vet the policies that are being considered in front of the board.
Personally, I think the board understands its corporate authority well. My colleagues are consciences and engaged. There are times we receive projects and policies that are not vetted to their fullest and at which point board members defer them from consideration until all questions are answered.
QUESTION: Because of heavy rain, billions of gallons of sewage-tainted water recently were dumped into Lake Michigan. This happens almost every year, but it is not good. Climate change, bringing stronger storms, will only make the problem worse. What would you do, as a commissioner, to limit the impact of climate change on our local waterways and our drinking water?
ANSWER: Climate Change is the number one issue not just facing the MWRD but humanity. On a symbolic level the MWRD Board of Commissioners passed a resolution praising the Paris Climate Deal and denouncing President Donald J. Trump for his withdrawal. The MWRD can ensure that infrastructure and planning are made to adapt to the changes in climate. We also can look at ways to lower our carbon foot print and help mitigate our impact on the climate.
QUESTION: With the first phase of the McCook Reservoir project now online, what next should the MWRD do to reduce the threat of sewage overflows? Do you support alternatives to maximizing the capacity of the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan?
ANSWER: Increasing Capacity, Investing in Infrastructure, and restoring the canopy are ways that we can reduce the threat of CSOs. We need to continue to find places where water is gathering and put water retention there to increase capacity before we treat it. We also need to invest in infrastructure- green and grey- that helps treat and move water effectively through the system. Finally, planting trees and restoring the urban canopy will help hold water out of the system completely alleviating the strain on the current infrastructure. In short, yes, I would support any ideology that will help ensure keeping water out of the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan.
QUESTION: What more should the MWRD be doing to prevent invasive species from moving into and through Chicago area waterways?
ANSWER: This is a complex problem that is led by the Army Corps of Engineers. This is a network of issues between many stakeholders such as the members involved in GLMRIS. We can lend expertise and labor to the issue but a coordinated effort between all members involved to address this problem facing the region.
QUESTION: What do you see as the MWRD’s role in controlling litter in our waterways?
ANSWER: MWRD does big things well. Patrolling littering on the waterways is something we can and do lend support to. We do not have the capacity to police littering. However, we should look into what authority we have in dealing with large scale polluters in the waterways.