The Environmental Finance Center at The University of North Carolina recently completed a study which compiled and analyzed examples of alternative delivery models in nine communities across the country. This research was supported by EPA’s Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center and through partnership with the West Coast Water Infrastructure Exchange. Most of the communities profiled used public private partnerships between private companies and governmental entities to build, upgrade and/or manage essential water or wastewater facilities. The models were diverse: one of the examples involved an innovative partnership between two governmental agencies – Allentown and the Lehigh County Authority. Another involved a partnership in Prince Georges County to install distributed stormwater facilities.
Alternative delivery models, particularly models that involve a high degree of private sector participation and private sector arranged financing, can generate significant passion both in favor and against the approach. Critics complain that profit motive in an area as important as public health and environmental protection can lead to unaffordable or inequitable services, while advocates see these partnerships as a way of providing an influx of expertise; creating structural financial incentives that promote performance; and allocating risk more effectively.
Our study looked at only a fraction of the alternative project delivery examples across the country, but in our analysis we encountered neither miracles nor devastation in the wake of these partnerships. What we found in most cases was the implementation of management approaches that, like so many other innovative tools, resulted in some challenging situations, but which when used prudently were able to advance a range of diverse local objectives. After reviewing promises and outcomes across the country, it became clear that communities entering into these approaches need to have realistic expectations. While we looked at a relatively small numbers of cases, we did notice some very important trends in outcomes that communities may want to consider when crafting expectations.