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Five Challenges Louisville's New Sewer District Director Will Face

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MSD sewer

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has appointed the head of Greater Cincinnati’s Metropolitan Sewer District to lead Louisville’s agency.

James A. "Tony" Parrott will replace Greg Heitzman as the executive director of Louisville’s MSD. Heitzman has served in the position since 2011, and is retiring.

In Cincinnati, Parrott oversees 1300 employees and a $320 million annual budget. He says there are lots of parallels between the water and sewer systems in Cincinnati and Louisville.

“The system is very similar, obviously, from a wastewater perspective,” he said. “We’re on the Ohio River. We’re responsible for not only the collection system and the sanitary sewer system but also the stormwater management system.”

Here are five challenges that will face Parrott when he starts his new job on September 14:

1.    MSD’s federal consent decree. MSD is under federal order to spend $850 million by 2024 implementing various projects to reduce the amount of untreated stormwater that’s released into the Ohio River. Cincinnati has an even bigger consent decree—$3 billion—that Parrott oversees in his current job.

2.    Increased flooding. So far this year, several neighborhoods have flooded during rain events. A workgroup is working on solutions to the problem; they’ve recommended a buyout program for certain homes, but city leaders have been resistant to adding any funds to the $1 million MSD committed to the project.

3.    Labor unions. Recently, relations between MSD executives and the labor union that represents many of the agency’s employees has been troubled. Union members threatened a strike last October, and there’s currently no union contract or formal recognition of the union. Parrott gave a nod to those challenges today. “I tell you, my roots, being in the utility industry over 30 years and working from the bottom up, I used to be a union member,” he said. “So I know a little bit about labor concerns and what that means, and what the value is of having collaboration with your labor unions and making sure that there is some inclusion of those folks as it relates to the strategic direction of the utility.”

4.    One Water. What was once proposed as a potential full mergerbetween Louisville Water Company and MSD has been scaled back. Now, the conversation revolves around consolidating certain “backroom” functions like accounting and human resources.  In Cincinnati, the water and sewer agencies are already merged, and Parrott noted his experience with that model. “It’s something that obviously I’m very excited to be able to bring to Louisville the experience and the opportunities that would exist under a One Water strategy.”

5.    Audit. For the past three-and-a-half years, MSD has been working to correct issues identifiedin a state audit of the agency.  Current director Greg Heitzman was hired to correct those problems, and Parrott will inherit those solutions.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.