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OMSAP  LogoPublic Interest Advisory Committee (PIAC) Meeting

April 4, 2001, 3:00 to 5:00 PM
Woods Hole, MA
FINAL MINUTES

ATTENDANCE

Members Present: Wayne Bergeron, Bays Legal Fund; Peter Borrelli, Center for Coastal Studies; Patty Foley, Save the Harbor/Save the Bay; and Steve Tucker, Cape Cod Commission.

Observers: Bruce Berman, Save the Harbor/Save the Bay; Grace Bigornia-Vitale, MWRA; Cathy Coniaris, MADEP; Peter DiMilla, observer; Pam Heidell, MWRA; Janet Labonte, EPA; Matt Liebman, EPA; Steve Lipman, MADEP; Mike Mickelson, MWRA; Andrea Rex, MWRA; Larry Schafer, observer; and David Wu, MWRA.

SUMMARY OF ACTION ITEMS

  1. PIAC requested MWRA email notification of important Internet postings, e.g. fall 2000 survey results with information on large system-wide phytoplankton bloom.
  2. PIAC members requested that MWRA information briefings be provided, ideally, two weeks in advance of the OMSAP meetings, with the understanding that this will not always be possible.
  3. PIAC discussed ideas for the fall OMSAP public workshop. Suggestions are included below.
  4. C. Coniaris will schedule a workshop planning meeting.
  5. P. Foley will contact Mike Ralph (MWRA) to find out more about the proposed MWRA budget cut and will report back to PIAC.
  6. PIAC will discuss attendance and ways of reinvigorating the group at its next meeting.
  7. P. Foley will review past PIAC minutes for action items that have not been addressed and will report back to PIAC.
  8. The November 2000 minutes were approved with no amendments.

MINUTES

REVIEW OF OMSAP MEETING

C. Coniaris gave a brief summary of the OMSAP meeting [see OMSAP minutes]. W. Bergeron asked what the criteria are for discerning a major vs. minor exceedance. C. Coniaris replied that the OMSAP chair would consult with other members and other scientists to determine the severity of the exceedance. B. Berman asked about the time frame of notification of exceedances. A. Rex replied that MWRA must report exceedances five days after receiving the data. For example, the seasonal chlorophyll threshold is based on data from 4-5 surveys. Notification is required five days after the data from those surveys have been analyzed and compared to the threshold.

B. Berman thinks this underscores an anxiety that some of the PIAC members have, although he understands why an agency would not want to go forward until they had a better understanding of what was going on. This can be resolved with early communication, even if the exceedance has not been fully examined yet. A. Rex pointed out that this already occurs.

P. Borrelli thought the OMSAP presentations were very informative and pointed out that Scott Nixon, a member of OMSAP, called for a slightly different meeting format that would allow the scientific panel the opportunity to wrestle with some of the analyses. The issue here is whether there is an opportunity for a more concurrent flow of information in a more collegial environment because he does not think that the chlorophyll issue, technically speaking, proved to be an exceedance. Even though the number is greater than the Contingency Plan threshold, it is some kind of natural phenomenon that may be human induced, have something to do with flows from the Gulf of Maine, or some other factors. The scientific community and the monitors will probably not make any conclusions for many months. He does not think anyone should read into the fact that because of these high chlorophyll counts, something was wrong and somebody should have been notified the day the first cruise came in. He does not think that we can make the science move faster than it wants to move and when some of these unexpected phenomena occur, it does not necessarily mean that there is an exceedance.

W. Bergeron thinks the sooner we are notified of an event, the more confidence builds with the public. In this case, we knew that it occurred, we stepped back, and we let the scientists examine the results. We were well served by the process of a relatively quick notification. He is comfortable letting science go ahead and take its course, but the speed of science is correlated at least somewhat to how interested we are in finding a solution to the problem. A. Rex asked W. Bergeron if the fall posting of MWRA’s survey results was adequate. W. Bergeron said that was fine.

P. Borrelli thought that during the chlorophyll presentation at the OMSAP meeting, there was reluctance, and properly so, to speculate on preliminary analyses. The chlorophyll presentation, as well as most of the monitoring, is presented by Battelle, under contract to MWRA, and is not an independent voice of science. He is also concerned that material is presented to OMSAP at meetings without their prior review. He is not quite sure what structure is needed to promote true peer review.

P. Foley suggested that if any PIAC member has concerns about a notification, to contact her or C. Coniaris and they could convene a PIAC conference call to develop a plan of action to further question MWRA, EPA, MADEP, or OMSAP. W. Bergeron agreed and they can also consult the Center for Coastal Studies and the Barnstable Science Advisory Panel. B. Berman thinks “a push might be better than a pull”, and MWRA could perhaps send notification of the postings. W. Bergeron agreed.

ACTION: PIAC requested MWRA email notification of important Internet postings, e.g. fall 2000 survey results with information on large system-wide phytoplankton bloom.

C. Coniaris then summarized the remainder of the OMSAP meeting [see OMSAP minutes]. W. Bergeron asked if OMSAP receives information and all of the data to review before the meetings. M. Mickelson replied that they send information briefings out in advance of the meetings and additional information is presented during the meetings. W. Bergeron asked if it is possible to get the information out sooner. M. Mickelson did not think so. P. Borrelli added that this is a difficult process. The data are rich and complex, and we are presented a summary, and yet it takes an enormous amount of time to present it. He is concerned that OMSAP comes to meetings fairly cold and may pass resolutions without time for review. W. Bergeron compared this to his time as a selectman. They had open meetings, like OMSAP, and an agenda with additional information available prior to the meeting. He is concerned that OMSAP will make decisions based on information received the day of the meeting.

M. Mickelson gave some background to the OMSAP information briefings. It was Judy Pederson, chair of OMSAP’s predecessor, the Outfall Monitoring Task Force, who requested that information briefings be provided two weeks in advance of meetings because she did not want to come into meetings cold and have to make decisions. MWRA aims to accomplish this but sometimes they are sent as late as four days before the meeting. Ideally, MWRA would like to have them ready two weeks before. B. Berman understands W. Bergeron’s position but is also sympathetic to MWRA. There is an enormous amount of data on each aspect of the monitoring, but sooner, rather than later, is better. He added that there were not a lot of ad hoc decisions being made at the two OMSAP meetings that he has had the opportunity to attend. S. Lipman does not think that OMSAP makes ad hoc decisions. P. Foley added that the votes are not ad hoc because the information briefings state whether the agenda items are “for information” or “for action”. W. Bergeron is not willing to accept OMSAP as the final authority in this process in terms of opinion. He would like to obtain raw data so others can review it too. P. DiMilla thinks an abstract sent to everyone is sufficient and include information on how to obtain the raw data for those who are interested.

B. Berman thought that the materials distributed before the meeting were very thorough, and that there was nothing at these meetings that he did not anticipate by reading the materials beforehand, other than the decision to change the calculation method of the baseline chlorophyll data. He also liked how the briefings provided names of people he could contact if he had any questions. His only comment was that he would have liked to have received the materials sooner. P. Foley agreed.

ACTION: PIAC members requested that MWRA information briefings be provided, ideally, two weeks in advance of the OMSAP meetings, with the understanding that this will not always be possible.

FALL 2001 OMSAP WORKSHOP

P. Foley thanked members for taking the time to complete the PIAC member questionnaire. She would like to discuss the results as well as begin brainstorming about the fall OMSAP public workshop.

P. Borrelli thinks the workshop is extremely important and it will be a challenge to figure out how to communicate to the general public what this project has accomplished. There are complex issues of science and management. He thinks there should be some kind of a working group made up of OMSAP, MWRA, Battelle, and PIAC to discuss what they think the public wants to know, needs to know, and how to best communicate it. P. Foley agreed. In order to bring the public to this meeting, we need to make sure that it is not a scientific presentation that is too technical. B. Berman thinks there is going to be a tremendous appetite to attend.

P. Borrelli thinks the workshop should be facilitated and suggested selecting a person with a commanding knowledge of what has gone on and what is expected. They can direct questions to the panelists from the general public, as well as among the panelists. Perhaps test some focus groups to try to figure out what the questions are and what the obstacles are to communication. For example, certain basic scientific principals that might be quite commonplace to us, might be completely lost on the general public. It is difficult to have good communication if we do not have a good sense of what it is they know and what they want to know.

W. Bergeron thinks the two major questions from the public will be, is the outfall doing what it was designed to do and what are the impacts, if any, on the environment, pro or con. This needs to be presented in such a way the there is not any appearance of any spin on the information. Presentations need to be balanced. A. Rex asked S. Tucker what flaws he saw in the last workshop, which was presented on a very technical level. S. Tucker did not see a major flaw in the content or the way it was set up, except that it was not geared towards the general public. W. Bergeron thinks it is important that people walk away from this feeling like they have been heard. P. Foley agreed.

J. Labonte suggested finding ways to make the workshop an entertaining event geared to the public’s level so that they can understand it. She suggested having an agenda with breaks, and mix things up, e.g. slide show, questions, short break, 10-minute video, etc. At the end, provide information that they can take with them. P. DiMilla suggested asking a teacher to facilitate the workshop, since they are accustomed to communicating difficult information to a group of people with varying proficiencies. Also have a board of experts behind them that can field specific questions.

W. Bergeron does not envision a lot of debate at the workshop. Everyone is hoping that there will be nothing negative to talk about. We have to get people there and the presentations need to be summaries. P. Borrelli does not think the public will attend if it is two days long. He thinks the workshop should just be two hours long and held in several locations. B. Berman suggested four workshops, North Shore, Boston, South Shore, and Cape Cod. L. Schafer suggested having the workshop on a talk show. P. Borrelli said that if the workshop is encyclopedic, it is doomed for failure. Information on how to obtain more detailed information can be provided at the workshop. The workshop should accomplish two things, make contact with the public and impart confidence that this is an open process.

B. Berman suggested scheduling the workshops before a science meeting and invite those from the public who are interested to attend. W. Bergeron does not think this workshop should be expensive since the consultants don’t have to do the presentations. P. Foley thinks groups could help advertise with mailings to their constituencies. J. Labonte thinks the public would be interested in learning how OMSAP is operating. B. Berman added that it will be necessary to begin by telling people what the Boston Harbor Project is. He thinks that the planning of this workshop will turn out to be a lot less complicated than some think. S. Tucker suggested a neutral press kit, containing the agenda and some general information for people to use when advertising the workshop. W. Bergeron thinks that anything longer than two hours will not be heard. He thinks scheduling it in the evening is important so the public can attend. He suggested a simple newspaper ad that reads: the outfall after one year, is it working, is it safe, and what have we learned. J. Labonte thinks it is important to have scientists give that information to the public. The public also needs to know that this is only scratching the surface. It is important to have the public understand the depth of this project, and that there is a lot of ongoing work.

ACTION: C. Coniaris will schedule a workshop planning meeting.

OTHER ISSUES

S. Tucker informed the group that there is a proposal to cut $12 million from MWRA funding. He wondered if this would affect the monitoring program. S. Lipman replied that this is external rate relief. P. Foley offered to contact Mike Ralph at MWRA to find out more information.

ACTION: P. Foley will contact Mike Ralph (MWRA) to find out more about the proposed MWRA budget cut and will report back to PIAC.

S. Tucker noted the low attendance of PIAC members at today’s meeting. He thinks members need to reassess where it falls in their priority list. If it is not a significant priority, then what can we do to make it one.

ACTION: PIAC will discuss attendance and ways of reinvigorating the group at its next meeting.

S. Tucker thinks it would also be helpful to look over the minutes of past PIAC meetings and see if there are any action items that have not been addressed.

ACTION: P. Foley will review past PIAC minutes for action items that have not been addressed and will report back to PIAC.

ACTION: The November 2000 minutes were approved with no amendments.

ADJOURNED

MEETING HANDOUTS:

  • Agenda
  • April 2001 OMSAP/PIAC/IAAC membership lists
  • November 2000 draft OMSAP minutes
  • MWRA information briefings and copies of presentations from April 4, 2001 OMSAP meeting
Summary prepared by C. Coniaris. Post-meeting comments are included in [brackets]. All such comments have been inserted for clarification only. They do not, nor are they intended to, suggest that such insertions were part of the live meeting components and have been expressly set-off so as to avoid such inference.

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