Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) – A small but important funding source

RCDI is specifically targeted to training and technical assistance for rural low-income communities and affords them opportunities they might not otherwise get access to.  The community must be 80% below the state non-metropolitan median household income and below a maximum population threshold of 50,000.  The communities that have participated in utility mapping and managerial and financial capacity building with RCAP Solutions with this funding would not have been able to afford these valuable services otherwise. 

Many of the communities that RCAP Solutions works with have no maps of their system at all or very outdated and/or incomplete maps.  Full system mapping enables them to: respond quickly to minimize threatened or actual interruption of service; facilitate asset tracking and repair and replacement planning and implementation; provide documentation for system upgrade engineering reports and funding applications; and support emergency planning and response activities.  In the northeast U.S., GPS locating of assets is critical in the winter months when valuable time can be lost finding and uncovering system components. The maps are created in both digital and physical formats for the community and they receive training on how to access and manipulate the digital maps for optimal system operation and management.

Under the RCDI program, RCAP Solutions also conducts additional training to benefit lower-income communities including managerial capacity building. In New York RCDI has also helped RCAP to facilitate training of community Code Enforcement Officers and other residential wastewater professionals on topics related to onsite wastewater treatment systems, including fundamentals, inspection procedures, and technology alternatives.

RCDI is very broad in what it allows a Technical Assistance Provider to do to support low income communities and really concentrates on a number of aspects of a community’s needs to foster self-sufficiency and overall community development.

Click on the map below to expand and see locations of over 30 current and past RCDI projects in New York, Pennsylvania, and Puerto Rico.

 

Education is key to implement behavior change

By Edwin Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist at RCAP Solutions Puerto Rico

Capitanejo, Guaraguao, Guayabal and Rio Cañas Arriba are rural barrios in Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico (PR) which are served through a USDA-RD Solid Waste Grant.

Since the fall of 2014 RCAP Solutions has provided technical assistance to overcome one of the most noticeable problems in these communities: the improper disposal of solid waste. Even when the municipality provides services such as weekly trash collection and monthly or bimonthly debris removal, many community residents do not participate in these initiatives to reduce solid waste generation. This demonstrates a current lack of interest or knowledge about how to solve their mounting solid waste disposal situation. The most probable reason for this behavior is a lack of environmental education and a low level of awareness of both the problem and its short and long term consequences.

Limited resources and an emphasis on funding and support in urban areas make it challenging to educate and assist rural residents. Important government supported initiatives like the Single Use Plastics Bag Ban (PR ACT 247), which went into effect on December 31, 2016 are very important because they pique the interest of not just urban but also rural communities.

RCAP has conducted eight workshops this year about the reasoning behind the passage of the “Plastic Bag Ban” in rural community schools to educate both students and teachers. They have learned the importance of this act and how they will benefit in terms of their health and the improvement of the surrounding natural environment.

The main goal of the initiative and RCAPs work around Solid Waste in PR is to initiate a process in which reduce, reuse and recycle can be a part of the local culture. A change in adult behavior can be promoted through the education of their children concerning solid waste problems and simple, affordable solutions. The kids have and will continue to assist RCAP in its efforts to modify the community’s learned bad habits and transform them into new positive ones.

“It’s been an excellent experience for our students to participate in the RCAP Solutions Workshops. The ways in which the concepts were taught were great: age appropriate for our students, very concise, using appropriate vocabulary, and captivating students’ attention. All teachers have expressed positive feedback. Our students are putting into practice what they learned in the workshop…and we hope to receive more workshops about recycling soon.”

Prof. Juan Cesari Delgado, Director of Capitenejo School.

CUPSS Testimonial

“I took over the sterling water department in 2009. At that time there were no programs, records or capital plans. Never being in charge of a department before this one, it was a monumental task to get it back in compliance. One month after taking over we lost the only trained employee on staff. We had a mile of main that needed replacement right away, all tanks needed cleaning, two tanks needed complete rehab, and wells needed redevelopment. I had to prioritize projects, go for funds and train new people while juggling the department and starting maintenance programs. I am a hands on person and paperwork is my weakest link. Along came Jim Starbard, RCAP Solutions and CUPSS*. Jim helped me install and enter custom tasks, assets, risk evaluation, costs, even log customer complaints. I was able to easily update CUPSS tasks daily. From CUPSS, I can print reports to show our board risk evaluation costs and even project for future maintenance. I can print daily worksheets for new or old employees to help walk them through routine tasks, a great training tool. CUPSS is easy for anyone to operate and I have found no shortcomings. It is a one stop tool for managing a water department, asset management, maintenance and financial forecasts. I could not be without it.”

Paul Lyons, Assistant Superintendent

Sterling Water Department

*Check Up Program for Small Systems (CUPSS) is a free, easy-to-use, asset management tool for small drinking water and wastewater utilities. CUPSS provides a simple, comprehensive approach based on EPA’s highly successful Simple Tools for Effective Performance (STEP) Guide series. For more information visit: https://www.epa.gov/dwcapacity/information-check-program-small-systems-cupss-asset-management-tool

Andrews Farm Water Company

Andrews Farm Water Company – Technical Assistance Re-Building a Water System

By James P. Starbard, Massachusetts State Lead

Located in the Northeast Massachusetts Town of Boxford and developed in 1994, the Andrews Farm residential community was the first community built under Massachusetts’s Chapter 40B law. This law requires that a minimum of 25% of the community has an income at 80% or below the area median income.

On the request of USDA’s Rural Development Office (RD), RCAP Solutions met with the community and worked with them to develop an asset management plan using US EPA’s Check up Program for Small Systems (CUPSS). With that asset and capital improvement information and then calculating the depreciation of assets, RCAP performed a system value evaluation which has been accepted by RD to facilitate a future sale of the system.

At this point in the project the focus shifted from assisting the water system through a sale to an emergency situation when on June 17, 2016 at 5:30 pm the community’s 3,000-gallon pneumatic drinking water storage tank exploded. The explosion destroyed much of the water system’s infrastructure including its pump house, and the incident left 53 homes without running water. I was at home watching the local evening news that night and saw the breaking news come in live.

Fox 25 Boston news reported that Brandon Shaw, a visitor to the community that day said: “All of a sudden there was a huge bang, the ground shook, and I heard all the glass shattering…I was walking thirty feet away; if I was a couple minutes later I would’ve been right in front of it.” The contract water operator for the community had been in the pump house less than an hour prior to the explosion but thankfully he has already left. No one else was injured.

Following a joint investigation by the Massachusetts State Fire Marshall Office and Boxford Fire Department, it was determined the cause to be a failure of the tank due to an increase in water or air pressure. “The pressure caused the tank to rupture, which sent a tremendous amount of energy that caused the damage,” reported the Massachusetts State Fire Marshall Office. “The building has been deemed a loss and is off limits to unauthorized persons.”

Fortunately, Andrews Farm had an emergency connection with a neighboring community that was utilized within 20 hours of the incident, restoring water flow to the residents. A few days later, after water sampling proved the water was potable, it was cleared for eating and drinking. The quick response was a testament to the need to have an updated emergency response plan which is exercised and updated frequently as well as a backup water supply within or outside of your own system

The incident was so dramatic it resulted in the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s (MASS DEP) Drinking Water Program to remind all water systems in the Commonwealth to inspect their storage tanks every 5 years, as required, especially pneumatic storage tanks. In that memo MASSDEP reminded systems to follow manufacturer guidance on useful life as structural integrity may be compromised after that. They also mentioned that a very similar incident occurred in June 2015 in North Stonington, CT.

An RCAP Solutions Specialist immediately was in contact with the owner to provide technical assistance and guidance to get the process of repairing the system started, which included many obstacles that had to be overcome during the process. An immediate concern was finding $100,000 to re-build the water system and to winterize the emergency connection which at the time was located above ground. The insurance company for the water system concluded that the cause of the damage to the water system was excluded from coverage, a conclusion the water system did and continues to dispute as they had just had their storage tanks inspected 11 months prior to the incident by a reputable outside contractor who did not note any deficiencies.

The water system had $1.6 million in coverage prior to the incident but in total they only received $128,000 in insurance funds to winterize the emergency connection and rebuild the pump house. This led the water company to seek out other sources of funding to re-build the system.

The water company is privately owned and prior to the emergency was preparing to be sold to prospective buyers including the neighborhood residents themselves if a cooperative was formed. Being a privately owned for-profit water company, the funding options were limited but many were explored with RCAP Solutions’ assistance including a submitted application to our RCAP network partner organization, Communities Unlimited (CU). They have a Revolving Loan Fund, but their loan terms could not be met by the water company, so the system ownership ended up supplying the needed capital to re-build the system which in total was approximately $240,000 above and beyond the emergency connection winterization costs.

RCAP Solutions’ assistance also included technical assistance throughout the construction planning and design stage. The usual process of selecting an engineer, applying for public agency permits etc. were accomplished but additional unusual obstacles were met throughout.

These obstacles included an order from the neighboring water system which acting as the emergency water source, for Andrew’s Farm to re-build their system and be self-sufficient by July 1, 2017 as they were no longer going to provide water to the water company after that date or serve as an emergency back-up supply again. This greatly increased the urgency to re-build as soon as possible and brought about the need for extra water storage for emergencies since this emergency connection would no longer be viable. This decision was ultimately reversed by the neighboring water system’s board and today they continue to serve as an emergency backup source to Andrew’s Farm.

Another obstacle was the FEMA flood maps. The maps showed the original pump house which had been destroyed as being in a flood plain, but this seemed to be an error because areas downgrade from the pump house even were not in a flood plain. This limited the water company’s ability to build beyond the original footprint under local building codes. With innovative design by the water company’s engineer, this obstacle was successfully overcome.

A third obstacle was the water company’s ability to raise user rates to pay for repairs to the water system. Rate setting for this community is regulated by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) and a public hearing was required before DPU’s Board for this request. A decision on the rate adjustment request of the water company is still forthcoming from the DPU and should have a final decision in the fall.

Despite the obstacles faced, on June 21, 2017, exactly 1 year and 4 days from the tank rupture that destroyed the pump house, the newly re-built pump house, storage and control center was put online and features some significant upgrades and technological advances.

The new control panel is the newest electronic technology allowing for remote Wi-Fi connect-ability and control by the system’s owner and contract operator. Also, the building’s side walls were made to be removable to allow storage tank replacement without significant structural alteration.

The extremely quick re-building effort was first and foremost the result of a tenacious owner of the water company, Doug Conn, whose background as a builder served invaluable in the effort. Also, the work of the water company’s engineer and MASS DEP’s involvement and prioritization ensured the project could move along expeditiously.

Mr. Conn was nice enough to write a letter of support and thanks to us for the assistance RCAP Solutions provided during the recovery stating RCAP Solutions “had always given great advice and been attentive to [their] requests” and that RCAP Solutions “had a lot to do with our success”.

RCAP Solutions continues to assist the water company to prepare for an ultimate sale and look for entities that may want to buy the water system including the citizens of the neighborhood. RCAP Solutions has spoken with community members and has offered our technical assistance to them if they wish to pursue the creation of a cooperative to take ownership of the water system.

 

 

Honey Pot Hill Orchards Case Study

We’ve been here 93 years. Why is this suddenly a problem?

Honey Pot Hill Orchards, Stow, Massachusetts

by Mia McDonald, Technical Assistance Provider

Honey Pot Hill Orchards is a family run business located in Stow, Massachusetts, about 30 miles west of Boston. Stow is a small, quiet town of approximately 6,600 residents. When Clifford Martin purchased the 180-acre farm in 1926, he sold apples, pears and peaches both wholesale and retail. His son, Richard, was one of the first in the country to offer pick-your-own apples; and that experience continues with Richard’s son and granddaughter. Andrew and Chelcie Martin are currently the third and fourth generation and run a fully retail operation with pick-your-own apples, peaches and blueberries, as well as a retail and bake shop, a maze and other family-friendly fun and entertainment. These resourceful business owners now operate their thriving family legacy which is currently nominated as one of USA Today’s Best Apple Orchards of 2017.

For the entire history of the business, the farm has utilized one drilled well with no treatment for the labor residence, public bathrooms and operation of the cider press and snack bar. In late 2015, the farm contacted the town health department to inspect a new donut machine in the snack shop. The inspector had recently retired and the town was now utilizing an association of boards who were not familiar with the farm. During the on-site inspection, the farmers were informed that they should be a public water system and that they had already been reported to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MA DEP).

“We’ve been here 93 years. Why is this suddenly a problem?” asked Andrew Martin.

MA DEP had recently discovered many farms and small businesses operating under similar circumstances and all were subject to the same regulations: all were considered small public water systems and were required to take the steps necessary to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act. MA DEP recognized Honey Pot’s well as a transient non-community public drinking water system because it serves more than 25 people more than 60 days per year. Very understandably, the owners were confused at the new designation as they had operated the business without the additional requirements and regulations of being a public water system for generations. They had also heard horror stories from fellow farms who had become public water systems, undergone testing and were now burdened with tens of thousands of dollars in contractor, testing and equipment fees.

As involved and successful farmers in New England, the Martins were already dutifully complying with local, state and federal regulations governing their crops, business and employment practices. They contacted their local Farm Bureau for assistance in resolving this issue without the need to become a public water system. The Martins were hopeful that by reducing connections or usage, they could avoid the designation of a public water system and the additional requirements, fees and costs. They were willing to stop public use of the bathrooms, post signs that stated the water was not potable and only use the water after it had been thoroughly heated. But MA DEP was not open to the proposed changes because of the exposure of the public to the water system.

At this point the Martins contacted their State Representative, Kate Hogan, for assistance in communicating with MA DEP. They were then referred to Massachusetts State Senator Jamie Eldridge. The legislative offices were not able to help as the MA DEP falls under the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The Martins met with MA DEP in Boston, then in the Central Regional Office in Worcester on multiple occasions. These attempts at discussion and compromise proved unsuccessful. During this time, the deadlines for compliance passed and the farm received an administrative consent order with possible fines. The situation had reached a stalemate.

An RCAP Solutions Technical Assistance Provider for Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island was working with Tougas Family Farm, a fruit farm in nearby Northborough, Massachusetts, on brainstorming new ideas for water supply during their busy apple-picking season. At a Massachusetts Fruit Growers Association meeting, the Martins were discussing their situation with other farmers. The Tougas family suggested meeting with RCAP to see if they could help. The Martins were reluctant as they feared RCAP worked for MA DEP and had little belief that the situation could be resolved, but they agreed to meet and discuss the situation, regardless.

As with many of the rural locations in which RCAP technical assistance providers (TAPs) get the opportunity to work, it was a beautiful site to visit. Even in early March, the gracefully gnarled apples trees rose and fell with the hills that covered the farm. Father and daughter, Andrew and Chelcie Martin, met with RCAP on a chilly spring morning to talk about what had been happening to this farm in the cozy apartment in which the seasonal laborers were soon to reside again. The Martins were trying to finish pruning the apple trees and were anxiously awaiting the arrival of their seasonal help to assist. They were tired and frustrated. They explained the arduous process of complying with the many labor and health laws under which a family-owned farm is subject. Chelcie Martin recounted the year that the health inspection of the labor housing had found that the silverware needed polishing. The laborers were due any day and she spent hours late into the night shining each piece of silverware in order to not delay their much-awaited arrival. They were responsible and caring business owners; but they had enough on their long lists and did not wish to take on the responsibility of a public water system.

After a thorough review of the thick file the Martins were keeping of their correspondence with MA DEP, RCAP had good news and bad news. The Martins’s farm, Honey Pot Hill Orchard, Inc., had already been assigned a public water system identification number and the lengthy application process was most likely not necessary. The Martins were surprised: “We are already a public water system?” Chelcie Martin asked.

The next step was to review the administrative consent order that had been issued to the water system and make a list of the requirements. Although this designation was unwanted, it did save the already very busy business owners from the application process and allowed them to continue down the list of requirements in the consent order. RCAP Solutions provided an emergency response plan and cross connection survey as required by the order. RCAP also drafted personnel plans, a sampling plan and other forms required by the order and assisted in the submission of all documents to MA DEP. All of this was completed at no cost to the system under grant funding from the Environmental Protection Agency. The corrective action plan was drafted at this first meeting.

Chelcie Martin volunteered to become the certified operator for the system. RCAP assisted in the completion of an emergency certification application for licensure to cover her until she met the requirements to apply for full licensure. She attended the RCAP/AWWA full day training on the Safe Drinking Water Act to gain the knowledge needed to pass the operator exam. Chelcie Martin also took the time from her own busy schedule to study materials provided by RCAP and, due to her diligence, passed the exam on the first try.

The final step was to establish communication with primacy to make sure everyone was on the same page. RCAP attended meetings between the system and primacy just to provide support for any additional requirements. MA DEP was pleased to see the progress on the consent order action items. MA DEP’s comments were received and incorporated into the items to be submitted.

MA DEP had seemed pleased with the progress and all action items had been completed so RCAP Solutions closed the project, but a few months later, it was time for the Martins to submit their first annual report for the water system. The state’s electronic filing system would not recognize Chelcie Martin’s operator designation. After a little probing, it was discovered that her application had never been processed past the emergency designation. It is unclear how this detail had been missed, but whatever the cause, the reports were rejected. The Martins reached out to RCAP again for assistance so with permission from MA DEP, one of RCAP’s certified operators worked with Ms. Martin to review the reports and submitted them under his license. After the reports were successfully submitted, Chelcie Martin was able to apply for and receive full operator status for very small systems.

Utilizing their experience with water systems and their existing relationship with MA DEP, RCAP Solutions was able to work with the business owners to bring their water system into full compliance. Through the entire process both the business owners and the primacy agency were looking for more information, but messages were not getting through and communication was failing. RCAP was able to act as a liaison between the water system and primacy to achieve the goals of both sides: continued provision of clean, safe water. The order was fully resolved and the Martins were ready for their busy season to begin in early August.

“It was a very stressful time,” remarked Chelcie Martin. Even after achieving full compliance, she remains vigilant about the new requirements and responsibilities of being a public water system which include maintaining her licensure, water testing and reporting. They are fortunate that their well produces high quality water that meets all standards. The Martins were appreciative of the knowledge and time that RCAP Solutions was able to provide to help them understand the regulations. They are also thankful that the services provided by RCAP Solutions lightened the financial burden they had originally expected with becoming a public water system.

 

 

RCAP Closed for All Staff Meeting

RCAP Solutions will be closed Tuesday, September 19th through Thursday, September 21st for offsite company meetings and training.  Our offices will reopen on Friday, September 22nd.

 

For our Housing Clients:

There will be no RAFT walk-in hours on September 18th -22nd. Our Housing Consumer Education Center will resume on Monday September 25th. Existing RAFT applicants can call and leave a message at 508-713-3250. HomeBASE clients should call their assigned case manager and EA Safe Step clients should use the emergency pager number.

Housing Consumer Education Center Informational Session

Please note: This event is geared towards practitioners and other housing agencies. Not for individuals seeking housing assistance.

Meet the Housing Consumer Education Center Staff!

Learn about:

  • First Time Homebuyer Program
  • Tenancy Program
  • Financial Wellness and Coaching
  • Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT)

 

Friday, June 30, 2017. From 1 – 3PM

12 East Worcester Street, 2nd Floor, Worcester

Light refreshments will be served

Advance registration requested, please R.S.V.P. to:

Belmaris Roman, HCEC Housing Counselor

Phone: (978) 630-6788

broman@rcapsolutions.org

RCAP Releases Statement on Administration’s Budget Cuts

RCAP LogoWASHINGTON, D.C. – Earlier this week, the Trump Administration released its full budget proposal to Congress. The proposal includes deep cuts to programs that will fundamentally hinder the ability for rural communities to thrive. In response to Administration’s budget, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) Inc.’s Executive Director Nathan Ohle released the following statement:

“This budget will severely hurt rural communities that have already been left behind. Now more than ever we need to be helping rural communities create opportunities to create good paying jobs, provide safe and affordable drinking water and adequately treated wastewater, and to develop infrastructure that will lead to economic growth.”

“There is a universal need for the federal government to support capacity building, technical assistance, and infrastructure funding in every community across America. The majority of small and rural communities that RCAP serves continue to struggle with capacity, expertise and adequate funding resources. They rely not only upon on RCAP’s technical assistance and training, but also loan and grant funding provided by the EPA’s State Revolving Funds and USDA Rural Development programs.”

“Cuts for safe drinking water and wastewater programs, the elimination of programs like USDA’s Water/Wastewater Grant and Loan Program, HHS’s Rural Community Facilities Program, HUD’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program, the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), and HUD’s Home Investment Partnership (HOME) Program are unacceptable. These programs were designed to help communities, particularly small rural communities, to invest in infrastructure, public health and economic development in some of the nation’s hardest hit areas.”

“Rural communities are the lifeblood of this country, and we stand ready to work in partnership with the federal government to improve programs that create healthy, vibrant and economically sustainable regions. RCAP is committed to working with the White House and Congress to show how this budget as proposed would adversely affect rural communities, and welcome the opportunity to engage in productive conversations that will lead to opportunity for every community across the country.”

The Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) is a national network of six regional RCAPs working to ensure that rural and small communities through the United States have access to safe drinking water and sanitary wastewater disposal. The Partnership provides a variety of programs to accomplish this goal, such as direct training and technical assistance. For more information, visit www.rcap.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

CONTACT Bianca Poll, Director of Communications, bpoll@rcap.org 202-470-2808

RCAP Solutions is the Northeast affiliate of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, providing services in all six New England states, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

 

Free Landlord and Tenant Workshops


How To Be A Good Tenant

Your Legal Rights & Responsibilities

Learn from professional housing counselors:

  • Planning your search for a rental unit
  • How to begin your search
  • Know your rights as a tenant
  • Tenant’s responsibilities
  • Rental Subsides
  • Avoiding Eviction

 Monday, June 5, 2017   ~   10 – 11:30 AM

RCAP Solutions – 12 East Worcester Street, 2nd Floor Worcester



How To Be A Good Landlord

Your Legal Rights & Preparing a Unit for Tenancy

Presented by Attorney Scott Wrenn, PC

Topics will include:

  • Buying a Rental Property
  • Prepping your Unit for Rental
  • Screening Prospective Tenants
  • Advertising your units
  • Written Lease Agreements
  • Security Deposits
  • Statements of Condition
  • Landlords Duty to Repair
  • Quiet Enjoyment
  • Summary Process

Wednesday, June 14 , 2017   ~   6 – 8 PM

NewVue Communities – 470 Main Street, Fitchburg

Please park on the right at the Shack’s parking lot or at the Main Street Garage (free 2-hour parking)



Register today!

Belmaris Roman, HCEC Counselor and Housing Search Specialist

Due to limited space, pre-registration is required.

2016 Snapshot

RCAP Solutions is pleased to present our 2016 Snapshot: “A Stabilizing Force in an Unstable Time”

Click here to view in flip book virtual format

Click here to download a PDF file

What you see is not a traditional annual report, but a condensed look at the positive impact as to how your tax dollars are used to help and make a positive impact in our communities.

We are proud of the many accomplishments the RCAP Solutions team made in 2016 and the work that was done to create opportunities for self-sufficiency for individuals and families throughout central Massachusetts and in small, rural communities across the Northeast United States, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

As always, we appreciate your support of RCAP Solutions and welcome your feedback.