House blocks bill prompted by Niagara, MDC bottling issue

Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, conceded the failure Thursday of an effort to pass a bill that would have regulated but not have prohibited a plan by Niagara Bottling to bottle up to 1.8 million gallons of Metropolitan District Commission water a day in Bloomfield.

The Senate passed the bill on a vote of 24 to 11 days ago, but the Metropolitan District Commission, other water companies, the bottling industry and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association mobilized to stop the measure in the House, calling it an unneeded intrusion into the market.

Bye said supporters of the bill rejected the offer of study legislation.

“There was a chance to do a study,” Bye said. “The advocates were very clear, ‘We don’t want a study, we want changes in water policy.'”

With only six days until the adjournment deadline of midnight Wednesday, the House had no appetite to take up a controversial and complicated bill opposed by major interest groups, Bye said.

“It’s a complicated thing, and if something complicated gets in the House, its very hard unless you have your communications down pat,” Bye said. “There was a big learning curve for House members and Senate members.”

The MDC, which has a surplus of water, saw Niagara as a needed revenue source: Based on production, the bottler could pay the Hartford regional water authority up to $3.8 million annually.

The legislation would have affected any bottler of more than 500,000 gallons of water daily, but was prompted by opposition to allowing Niagara, the largest family-owned bottled-water company in the U.S., to use water supplied by the MDC.

William A. DiBella, a former Senate majority leader who is the MDC chairman, said an apparent drafting error, if uncorrected, could have broadened the bill’s reach to other industrial or commercial consumers of water. A larger concern for DiBella and other water companies was a requirement for what they said would be an expensive permitting process.

Bye said Thursday the only consolation for the community of activists who organized around the Niagara proposal is that water policy now is an issue of broader interest.

“I think there’s been a big movement, and it’s really going to make change,” she said.

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