Snyder's Sandwich: Should Sandwich Leave The Cape Cod Commission?

Mark SnyderGENE M. MARCHAND/ENTERPRISE - Mark Snyder

As promised, this week we look into the continued viability of the Town of Sandwich spending $155,000 a year to belong to the Cape Cod Commission. First off, what is the Cape Cod Commission?

In the 1980s, development was going wild on the Cape. Minds came together to create an organization to prepare and oversee implementation of a land use policy plan, create districts of critical planning concerns, and review developments of regional impact. A ballot question in November 1988 resulted in 76 percent of Cape voters endorsing the creation of the commission. The vote initiated a 14-month legislative process that concluded with the signature of then-Governor Michael S. Dukakis on the Cape Cod Commission Act in January 1990. In essence, the former Cape Cod Planning and Economic Development Commission had been given regulatory powers by the Massachusetts General Court at the request of the voters of Cape Cod. The act required additional ratification through a countywide ballot in March 1990. Majority support prevailed and has continued for two decades.

With Sandwich having only one large town-owned developable parcel, it has been asked if it is worth the town to continue spending $155,000 as its contribution to the commission every year.

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Sandwich Board of Selectmen chairman Jim Pierce says he leans toward staying with the commission. He told Snyder’s Sandwich, “I am in favor of staying in the commission. But, it’s a close call, maybe 55/45. There are legitimate issues best handled on a countywide scale. There are some areas where individual towns don’t have enough work for a full-time person. This results in unfocused and sometimes ineffective results. Examples of areas where the commission does, or could contribute, include, but are not limited to, 911 dispatching, ocean management regulations, shell fishery management, erosion control and dredging, weights and measures, animal control, veterans affairs and energy-efficiency programs.”

But Pierce cautions, “Occasionally I find myself flipping the other way. I was appalled by the proposal to elect a ‘Mayor of Cape Cod’ and the assembly delegates from districts that erased town boundaries. Fortunately, the proposal failed, but it was altogether too close. I am suspicious of the way water resource management may turn out. If the intent is really to do it watershed by watershed, that should be fine. But, if as one of their many maps indicates, they plan some grand scheme for all north-facing bay coasts, it could be a disaster for Sandwich. Preliminary indications are that our two north-facing estuaries are in good shape. We don’t need to get sucked into some plan where we pay 20 percent of the cost while only contributing 5 percent of the problem.”

Pierce concludes, “There is a benefit where economies of scale favor a regional approach. There is potential for disaster where growing county government at the expense of towns moves government still further from the people. Of course, I recognize that ‘costs’ come in two kinds—monetary and opportunity. Sandwich gets commensurate services for the assessment we pay. My observations through recent events have convinced me that the CCC is a net positive from a regulatory viewpoint. But, it’s close. That’s what makes the commission a soft target for detractors.”

Sandwich Town Manager George “Bud” Dunham told me: “Most of my interaction with the commission is with the staff, not the commissioners themselves. Over the last several years, the amount of commission staff involvement and assistance to local municipalities has increased substantially. For example, our ongoing RESET process with the commission staff focusing on economic development and pre-permitting uses that would not require commission review has taken a lot of time since last August. At most meetings we have with the commission, there are usually several staff members present providing technical assistance. Any time the town needs a large GIS map for a special occasion or initiative (i.e., extra-large zoning maps for Town Meeting; coastal embayment for wastewater work), it’s the commission GIS department that prepares it for us. We don’t have the technology or technical capacity to do it ourselves beyond regular office needs or light production.”

Dunham also pointed out a few instances where the commission has saved Sandwich money. One of the most pronounced examples was organizing a regional GIS flyover for this spring. Sandwich’s cost is just under $10,000. Says Dunham, “The last time we performed a GIS flyover in 2007, it cost us over $60,000 working with the Massachusetts Military Reservation (now Joint Base Cape Cod) and the resolution and technology were nowhere near as advanced as the upcoming flyover.” In addition, according to Denham, “the commission served as the coordinating agency for about 13 Cape towns and several off-Cape communities on negotiating successor solid waste contracts. In the end, each community signed separate agreements, but all the dirty work was paid for and done by the commission.”

But, there ARE critics. West Barnstable resident Ron Beaty writes to Snyder’s Sandwich, “The commission is an expensive and unnecessary layer of county government bureaucracy which hampers economic development, has created zero private sector jobs, zero affordable housing units, and zero new business start-ups. They are appointed by county and municipal officials, not directly elected by the voters, and as a result are not accountable to anyone but themselves despite having enormous power over Cape Cod residents.”

Beaty adds, “In January of this year at a Sandwich Board of Selectmen meeting, a Cape Cod Commission official clearly stated that the delegate to the County legislature from that town made statements that were patently false, and that he knew the statements were false. The delegate to the County Assembly is a democratically elected representative of Sandwich voters. An appointed and unelected bureaucrat with the Cape Cod Commission should show more respect to those officials who have been directly chosen by the people of Cape Cod. This clearly indicates a lack of focus, and prioritization.”

Beaty also writes, “Since the commission itself clearly states in writing that it is the direct successor agency to the CCPEDC (Cape Cod Planning and Economic Development Council), it is the unquestionable legal responsibility of the Cape Cod Commission to conduct a 208 Water Quality Plan Update (as required by federal law) every 10 years, which at a minimum means it should at least have been carried out by the CCC in both 1998 and 2008. The last one was conducted in 1978.  Moreover, because it did not conduct the legally required 208 Water Quality Plan Update during all of those years, the nitrogen loading problem and wastewater crisis on Cape Cod grew significantly worse. This can lead to only one logical conclusion, the Cape Cod Commission itself is at least partially responsible for creating the dire ecological crisis which we now find ourselves.”

David Still of the Cape Cod Commission tells me, “Based solely on financials, a strong argument can be made that the commission has saved Sandwich more money than it has paid to the commission since 1990. In 24 years, Sandwich taxpayers contributed $3.2 million to the Cape Cod Environmental Protection Fund and received more than half of that back in direct cash mitigation from commission-reviewed projects. Those projects also saw 202 acres of open space permanently protected. When the value of commission technical and planning assistance for economic development, transportation, affordable housing and other service areas are included, Sandwich’s direct benefit exceeds its contributions.”

Still adds, “But the commission’s value is more than a dollar and cents evaluation. There is a benefit for an agency that is mandated to look at issues that can’t be defined or addressed based on town boundaries. This is as true for wastewater planning and public supply protection as it is for transportation and corridor planning and issues related to coastal erosion.”

Finally, Still also says that the town won’t be able to direct that $155,000 elsewhere, saying, “What residents pay into the Cape Cod Environmental Protection Fund, the voter-authorized funding mechanism for the commission, is a dedicated assessment. Should that be eliminated, the assessment simply goes away and would not be available for other uses. The benefit of roughly $14 per year for a single-family home would accrue to the taxpayer, not municipal budgets.”

Still also told Snyder’s Sandwich there were two “substantive denials” from the commission:  a) an 18,000-square-foot proposal for three movie theaters and a bowling alley was denied in 1990, and a 120,000 sq. ft. Costco store was denied in 1994. There were three denials that were later approved, all from the 1990s. And, there were nine procedural denials, which means they failed for technical reasons, not on their merits.”

Interestingly enough, a debate will be held as to the future of the Cape Cod Commission for area towns. It will be held on Friday, March 28, from 7 PM until 8 PM at the historic West Parish Meetinghouse, 2049 Route 149 in West Barnstable.  Bourne selectman Linda Zuern will be presenting the reasons and benefits for withdrawing from the CCC. Hawich selectman Ed McManus will present the drawbacks to municipal withdrawals. Admission is free. For more information, go to www.1717meetinghouse.org. 

Rumblings Around Town


ATTENTION ARTISTS! The Sandwich Daffodil Festival announces a call for artists. The festival will take place on April 26, from 10 AM to 4 PM and is a part of the town’s big 375th Anniversary celebration. There will be separate tents for food, music, artwork sales, and gardening activities. If you are interested in selling your artwork, contact Anne Sayer at asayer3@gmail.com by March 15 for an application form and guidelines. 

A TASTEFUL BUSINESS: East Sandwich’s own Donna Russo is now an independent consulting with Tastefully Simple, Inc., a national direct sales company featuring easy to prepare foods. Russo offers delicious food samples at home taste-testing parties, where the host can earn free items. She also offers ideas for easy everyday meals, recipes, and serving suggestions at these parties. All of Tastefully Simple’s product line are either ready to serve, or require only a couple of ingredients. (I particularly like their dips.)  For more information on products or parties, contact Donna at dmrusso#comcast.net. 

2014 RIB ROAST for BARNSTABLE COUNTY DEPUTY SHERIFF’S ASSOCIATION: The 13th Annual Raffle and Rib Roast is Friday, April 4, at the St. George Greek Church Hall on Route 28 in Centerville. Only two hundred tickets will be sold. Tickets are $100 each, which buys you two dinners and one chance in the lottery (two people can split a ticket for $50 each).  A total of $8,000 will be raffled off. You do not have to be present to win. Cocktails and appetizers will be served from 6 PM to 7 PM, followed by dinner, the raffle, and music by Dave McCoy.  This year, prime rib and fish will be offered. Please email Jeff at electjeffperry@aol.com for an order form or if you have any questions.

Mark Snyder, who has written more than 1,885 articles in newspapers and magazines, and published three books, is the CEO of PMPNetwork.com, the Internet’s entertainment superstation. Have a story idea? He can be reached by e-mail at snyderssandwich@aol.com, on Facebook (Snyder’s Stoughton), and on Twitter (MediaMan2009). Write him via snail mail at Box 639, East Sandwich.   

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