Major Falmouth Sewer Projects Head To Town Ballot

2014 Falmouth town meeting.GENE M. MARCHAND/ENTERPRISE - 2014 Falmouth town meeting.

After four hours of debate that spilled into Wednesday evening, April 9, Falmouth Town Meeting members voted 152-42 in favor of a major sewer project that will cost $50 million. Voters now must approve a debt exclusion from Proposition 2 1/2 in the May 20 town election.

Article 28 provides for widening the inlet to Bournes Pond, installing sewers to houses surrounding Little Pond, upgrading the current wastewater treatment plant, and making improvements to the sewer mains in Woods Hole. Town Meeting members also approved Article 27, a mechanism that pays for the sewer collection system through a betterment where homeowners will fund 70 percent of the project.

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The sewer projects spurred strong debate that started Tuesday evening, April 8. Instead of staying at the Lawrence School past 11 PM, Town Meeting members voted to return Wednesday to finish tackling the issues.

Eric T. Turkington, chairman of the Water Quality Management Committee, said the $50 million project will rid 88 percent of the nitrogen from Little Pond—the most polluted pond in town—as well as address other looming wastewater issues in town. Two of four projects are mandated by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

Those opposed to the plan said it was too soon and that the town did not adequately consider alternative ecological solutions.

Hilde M. Maingay of Common Way, Hatchville, said a waterless urinal was an example of one of many eco-friendly projects Falmouth should consider. She also said the town should look into seeding more oysters to filter the nitrogen filled estuaries.

“The town’s plan removes nitrogen only, but keeps the phosphorus. We then have to put it somewhere, so it goes back into the ground or we use fossil fuels to move our sludge off Cape,” she said.

Vice chairman of the Water Quality Management Committee Virginia Valiela countered by stating the committee did look heavily at alternatives and in fact, the plan does rely on using shellfish to filter ponds and stopping stormwater before it hits the estuaries to get to 100 percent nitrogen removal.

“If we were relying solely on sewering, we would have to sewer all the way to Gifford Street to capture the whole Little Pond watershed,” she said.

Mr. Turkington said the “window of opportunity will close soon to fund without raising taxes because state aid will decrease and construction costs will rise.”

He said in 2009 the town rejected a $600 million sewer plan by the state that would have mandated homes from Falmouth Heights to Seacoast Shores to hook up to sewer. Since the town rejected the plan, he said, the water quality committee looked for a solution that included the minimum amount of sewer installation, augmenting with alternatives to improving area waterways.

“Without this plan the state would mandate large-scale sewer installation. People ask, do you have a Plan B?’ We don’t. But the state does,” he said, referring to the $600 million plan.

An amendment was offered to split the four wastewater projects and vote on them separately. Kathleen R. Driscoll, Precinct 7, said that only two of the four projects in the article, the least expensive two, are mandated by the state.

“We have time for the Bournes Pond project. They are not all emergency projects. The revolving fund will be there in a year,” she said. The amendment failed.

Moderator David T. Vieira, also a state representative, said he expects the town to qualify for a zero percent interest rate loan from the state’s revolving loan fund for the projects.

Voters approved a betterment payment plan for the Little Pond project in Article 27. Betterments will be paid by property owners to fund 70 percent of the Little Pond sewers. This turns out to be $598 per year for the residents of Little Pond based on a 30-year interest free loan.

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