Little Pond neighborhood residents posed many questions Monday night, asking about hidden or additional costs they will bear if the proposed sewer expansion project passes the ballot May 20.
Approximately 100 homeowners, mainly from the neighborhoods off Maravista Avenue and Falmouth Heights, attended an informational meeting at Teaticket Elementary School where town officials fielded general questions on how the sewer expansion project would affect homeowners. At the end of the meeting, Water Quality Management Committee members and the wastewater superintendent answered specific questions from homeowners in a break-out session.
Falmouth Board of Selectmen requested the meeting in response to residents who said the town had not done enough to educate homeowners on the $41 million project. As proposed, homeowners will pay for 70 percent of the expansion and the rest will be paid by Falmouth taxpayers.
One resident, who waited for two-and-a-half hours to ask his question, began by saying the meeting was three weeks late, but thanked the town officials for holding it.
Town manager Julian M. Suso was quick to quell debate about the overall comprehensive wastewater management plan.
“This is not a ballot one question debate. This is for the benefit of the residents of Little Pond,” Mr. Suso said.
The Little Pond neighborhood sewer project is contained in ballot Question 1 as the largest chunk of the comprehensive wastewater management plan. The water quality committee says Little Pond is too impaired to be remediated with alternatives like inlet widening or aquaculture and needs the sewer project. They say connecting the 1,480 homes to town sewer will remove 88 percent of nitrogen from what is considered the town’s most polluted estuary.
“We have been working on a financial package to minimize the impact to taxpayers. We can re-issue new debt in place of retiring debt right now,” said Virginia Valiela, Water Quality Management Committee vice chairman. She said the comprehensive plan will cost homeowners with a $400,000 house $48 per year. The town secured a zero percent loan that Ms. Valiela said will expire if not acted upon.
After two presentations detailing the project cost and the eco-alternatives the Water Quality Management Committee considered but ultimately dismissed, Mr. Suso opened the floor to questions.
Several residents asked who will pay for the grinder pumps. These pumps are needed for homes connected to sewer in low-lying areas, which includes about 750 homes in the Little Pond watershed.
Gerald C. Potamis, Falmouth’s wastewater superintendent, said the town will pay for the pumps and three to five years of maintenance, but the homeowner will pay for the installation cost. A handful of residents voiced concerns on the pump’s life span. Mr. Potamis said some Woods Hole residents use grinder pumps, and he hasn’t heard complaints on their longevity or effectiveness.
Ms. Valiela provided a detailed cost breakdown of the sewer project per household. The committee estimates sewer costs will be $1,123 to $1,248 a year for 30 years. This includes the hook-up fee spread over 20 years with interest, the $600 betterment, sewer usage charges and electricity to run the grinder.
She cleared up confusion on the betterment deferral program that allows homeowners over 65 to defer the betterment until the sale of the house. Originally, the committee said the homeowner would pay 8 percent interest on the deferral, but she amended it last night to zero percent.
The final cost of the betterment will be determined at a hearing in 2015 if it passes town vote. This riled many residents who wanted assurance that the price tag would not increase.
“We’ve built in a fairly large contingency of 25 percent into the cost, so I’m confident the maximum homeowners will pay is $41 million, said Nathan C. Weeks of the engineering firm GHD.
Another resident stood up and said he felt like the town was targeting the Maravista area and said many residents could not afford the bear the costs. Ms. Valiela said they were not targeted, and said eventually all estuaries in Falmouth will be expected to be cleaned up. Since Little Pond is the most impaired, she said, it must be done first.
Grant Walker of Philadelphia Street asked how the 70/30 percent betterment split was decided upon.
“There’s no exact formula, but Town Meeting voted on the split,” Mr. Suso said.
Board of selectman chairman Brent V.W. Putnam said the last sewer betterment project in New Silver Beach was split in the same manner.
Marc Finneran of Trotting Park Road, a candidate for selectmen, said homeowners in other Falmouth sewer projects paid 45 percent betterments.
Angelo R. Pirri, Great Bay Road, asked if any considerations would be made for residents who had just paid to have a septic tank installed.
Mr. Weeks said he understood that the back-to-back projects would be burdensome, and suggested that selectmen may be able to consider these instances as special cases.
About halfway through the question-and-answer period, Mr. Suso reminded attendees to keep their questions to the topic at hand after a few attendees started peppering the presenters with questions about the wastewater plan and how it was vetted.
“I ask you to respect these homeowners here who have waited a long time to ask questions. We’re not here to debate the entirety of the comprehensive wastewater management plan,” Mr. Suso said to residents Malcolm Donald of Ambleside Drive and Mr. Finneran.
Sia Karplus, the committee’s technical consultant, talked about each eco-alternative and demonstration projects the town considered—from inlet widening, oyster planting, eco-toilets, and permeable reactive barriers—and said at best, they would remove 12 percent of the pollution in Little Pond. The sewer expansion project does, however, rely on oyster planting to remove the remaining nitrogen from the pond.
“The committee absolutely considered the alternatives, and we are optimistic they can be used in other estuaries in town,” Ms. Karplus said.