March 2024 Vol. 79 No. 3



$770 Million Allocated for Rural Infrastructure Projects Including Water, Internet 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled a significant investment of $772.6 million across 216 projects in 45 states, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands.  

This funding initiative aims to modernize rural communities by prioritizing essential upgrades to water and wastewater systems, alongside improvements in high-speed internet access and vital services. 

A significant portion of the funding, $644.2 million, is dedicated to bolstering rural utilities, enabling 158 projects to provide clean drinking water and wastewater systems for over 900,000 individuals. Projects span across numerous states, safeguarding public health and environmental sustainability. 

This funding builds on the $5.8 billion in Infrastructure Law funding for clean water from the Environmental Protection Agency. 

An allocation of $51.7 million is designated to expand high-speed internet access through programs such as the Reconnect Program and the Broadband Technical Assistance Program. These investments will bolster connectivity in rural and Tribal communities across 17 states, enhancing opportunities for education, commerce, and healthcare. 

Also announced the commencement of applications for Round 5 of the ReConnect Program, starting March 22, 2024. This initiative seeks to further expand access to affordable high-speed internet in rural America, fostering economic growth and connectivity. 

Moreover, USDA is funneling $76.6 million into underserved communities through the Rural Partners Network (RPN), supporting job creation, healthcare access, and energy sustainability across 10 states and Puerto Rico. 

Cross-Border Pipeline to Mexico LNG Plant Receives Regulatory Approval 

U.S. regulators have granted approval for a cross-border pipeline, facilitating the export of approximately 2.8 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas from Texas to the Mexico Pacific's Saguaro LNG export facility on Mexico's western coastline. 

The company plans to construct a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant valued at approximately $15 billion in Mexico, aimed at exporting superchilled fuel derived from U.S. natural gas. 

While the approval signifies progress in the project's advancement, Mexico Pacific LNG has yet to finalize the financial aspects for the construction of the proposed 15 million metric ton per annum LNG plant. 

The decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve the construction of the Saguaro Connector Pipeline comes amidst recent actions by the Biden administration, including a temporary halt on export permit reviews by the Department of Energy.  

Despite the approval, the cross-border pipeline has faced opposition from various Texas groups, including environmental advocates such as the Sierra Club. These groups argue that FERC should take into account potential greenhouse gas emissions, including the risk of methane leaks, when assessing such projects. 

CenterPoint Energy Sells Louisiana, Mississippi Natural Gas Assets 

CenterPoint Energy Inc. has announced the sale of its Louisiana and Mississippi natural gas LDC businesses to Bernhard Capital Partners, a services and infrastructure-focused private equity management firm, for $1.2 billion. 

The assets include approximately 12,000 miles of main pipeline in Louisiana and Mississippi serving approximately 380,000 metered customers. CenterPoint’s LDCs are the second largest natural gas LDCs in both Louisiana and Mississippi by customer accounts, with a combined workforce of approximately 550 employees. 

The sales price of $1.2 billion represents approximately 32 multiple of 2023 Louisiana and Mississippi LDC earnings. The transaction is anticipated to close toward the end of the first quarter of 2025, subject to customary closing conditions, including Hart-Scott-Rodino antitrust clearance and state regulatory approvals. 

North Dakota Sues Government for Costs Associated with Dakota Access Protests 

North Dakota is set to take the federal government to trial for the costs of responding to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, the culmination of an unusual and drawn-out court fight. 

The state filed the lawsuit in 2019, seeking $38 million from the federal government for policing the protests. Years of legal wrangling followed before the trial date was scheduled in December. The bench trial before U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Traynor is expected to last 12-13 days. 

In an interview, North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley said the trial will show examples of numerous requests to the federal government for help and the “complete refusal” to offer resources and financial support in response. 

Thousands of people camped and demonstrated near the oil pipeline’s Missouri River crossing upstream from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation. The tribe has long opposed the pipeline due to the threat of an oil spill polluting the tribe’s water supply. 

The protests lasted months. Some days involved clashes between demonstrators and officers, including at a blocked highway bridge where officers used tear gas and rubber bullets and sprayed water in below-freezing temperatures as protesters tried to move past and allegedly threw rocks and burning logs. 

The state’s complaint alleges many “trespassers at these unlawful encampments engaged in disruptive, illegal and sometimes violent conduct on federal, State and private lands, including blocking public highways, threatening individuals working on the DAPL pipeline and the local population (such as ranchers), and directly initiating violence against law enforcement personnel and first responders.” 

The protests, which lasted from about August 2016 to February 2017, resulted in hundreds of arrests and subsequent criminal cases. Some lawsuits over officers’ use of force are still in court. 

FirstEnergy Strengthens Electric Grid by Replacing 50 Miles of Underground Cable 

FirstEnergy Corp. subsidiary Potomac Edison has completed service reliability projects that will enhance electric service and minimize the impact of power outages for nearly 5,000 customers in Allegany, Frederick and Garrett counties. 

Potomac Edison proactively replaced about 50 miles of aging underground cable with a more reliable type of cable designed to withstand elements like dirt, rocks, lightning and water. 

Potomac Edison serves about 285,000 customers in all or parts of Allegany, Carroll, Frederick, Garrett, Howard, Montgomery, and Washington counties in Maryland and 151,000 customers in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. 

Atlanta Progresses Sewer Infrastructure Project to Mitigate Flooding 

The City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management (DWM) has reached a significant milestone to deliver on a decade-long effort to remedy combined sewer overflows and localized flooding in southeast Atlanta. 

To meet the requirements of an EPA-issued Consent Decree, DWM has contracted a multidisciplinary team to design and construct solutions that help control surface water, detain stormwater flows to the combined sewer system, and provide temporary underground storage to protect public health and property. 

Anticipated to begin the design phase in early 2024, the Custer Avenue Multi-Benefit Capacity Relief Project is the linchpin of sewer infrastructure improvements for the broader southeast Atlanta neighborhoods in the Custer Avenue sub-basin of the larger Intrenchment Creek Basin. According to DWM Commissioner Mikita K. Browning, this project leverages partnerships to protect, restore, and enhance watersheds. 

A joint venture of Ruby-Collins Inc. and BenchMark Management, supported by engineer of record Brown and Caldwell, will design and build a large underground “capture and release” structure to temporarily store combined sewer overflows during wet weather events. 

The underground structure will gradually release overflows back to the collection system for treatment when capacity is available. New facilities include a large capacity storage vault, storm drain infrastructure, and added greenspace. 

The capture and release infrastructure will be housed underground at a new public open space with recreational amenities in the Peoplestown neighborhood, a low-lying area where some homes have historically been impacted by stormwater.

South Dakota Scrambles to Spend $700 Million on Water Infrastructure Upgrades 

According to South Dakota News Watch, South Dakota water officials are scrambling to spend $700 million granted through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 before a federal deadline. 

ARPA regulations require water authorities to create a plan for grant money by 2024 and spend it by 2026. If they don’t, they’ll have to send the money back to be reallocated to other states. 

The News Watch reported that $600 million has been allocated to over 200 water and sewer infrastructure upgrades, but that less than 33 percent has been spent. Lawmakers are proposing that the unallocated and unspent money go towards projects that have already gone through the approval process. 

‘Startling’ Report Exposes Urgent Need to Increase Water Funding 

The American Business Water Coalition (ABWC) released a report that exposes the urgent need for the federal government to drastically increase water infrastructure funding and protect the nation’s businesses and local economies. ABWC’s new Business Impact Fact Sheet, “10 Extreme Water Disasters in 10 Days Shut Down Local Economies Across the Nation,” gathers a list of water infrastructure failures directly tied to extreme weather and business loss in or surrounding major metropolitan areas in all regions of the country between the dates of Jan. 14 and Jan. 23. 

Key events highlighted in the report include: 

Memphis, Tenn., was placed under a boil water advisory between Jan. 18-23 following numerous water main breaks, impacting 600,000 people and wreaking havoc on businesses, many of which had to cease or significantly alter operations. 

Philadelphia, Penn., suffered several large water main breaks following freezing temperatures, resulting in extreme street flooding and water shut offs between Jan. 22-23 for 80 affected properties. 

Metairie, La., the largest community in Jefferson Parish, placed 250,000 residents and all businesses in the community under a boil water advisory on Jan. 23 following a massive break of an 80-year-old water main. Grocery stores, hospitals, schools and other businesses were forced to limit services or cease operations until the advisory was lifted on Jan. 25. 

Currently, federal funding accounts for only 5 percent of all nationwide investment in water infrastructure. Restoring the country’s water systems simply to meet current needs will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years -- without taking into account the impacts of climate change or future threats like PFAS. Without a dramatic increase in federal investment, every business and community in America is at risk, with real-world effects showcased in this report. 

Mears Broadband Becomes Standalone Entity 

Mears Broadband, LLC, a turnkey fiber broadband network construction contractor, announced that as of Jan. 1, 2024, it has officially launched as a standalone entity under the Quanta Services umbrella. As a standalone entity, Mears Broadband has more flexibility and agility in responding to the fast-paced, evolving needs of the fiber broadband industry. 

Broadband providers across the U.S. are applying for funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) $42.45 billion Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program to connect unserved and underserved communities to reliable broadband service. With construction absorbing 70-80 percent of fiber deployment costs, Mears Broadband plays an important role in ensuring that BEAD proposals are feasible and successful. It provides service providers with broadband expertise, a turnkey fiber network infrastructure solution, and an ecosystem of skilled and vetted partners that together ensure projects are completed on time and within budget. 

“We’re more agile, we can streamline decision-making, and we can address customer requests faster. That means that networks can be built safely and efficiently under the strictest requirements,” said Trent Edwards, president of Mears Broadband. 

Mears Broadband is a subsidiary of Quanta Services, the largest skilled labor force in North America, uniting over 200 operating companies. 

ExxonMobil, EnLink Midstream Explore CCS Pipeline Transportation Opportunities  

ExxonMobil and EnLink Midstream are exploring opportunities for EnLink to support ExxonMobil's carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) efforts beyond the southeast Louisiana Mississippi River Corridor into several additional Gulf Coast areas. 

"EnLink and ExxonMobil are actively pursuing opportunities to develop safe, reliable and cost-efficient CCS solutions," said Jesse Arenivas, EnLink Chief Executive Officer. "EnLink brings to the table decades of expertise building, owning, and operating midstream assets with a customer-focused mindset, which gives ExxonMobil greater flexibility and more options to meet the needs of industrial CO2 emitters. EnLink is fast becoming a leader in providing safe, low-cost CO2 pipeline transportation services, and we're excited to expand the discussion with ExxonMobil to additional high-emitting Gulf Coast areas." 

With its acquisition of Denbury, ExxonMobil is evaluating the most market-competitive CCS solutions across the Gulf Coast. During that evaluation, EnLink and ExxonMobil have agreed to reassess the Pecan Island Area project's near-term role, with the expectation that other joint opportunities may be prioritized ahead of the Pecan Island project. 

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