Few Residents Attend Public Hearing On Mashpee Wastewater Plan

Only a few Mashpee residents attended a hearing on Mashpee’s Comprehensive Waste Management Plan on Tuesday, August 26, held by the Mashpee Sewer Commission and members of the Cape Cod Commission at town hall.

J. Jefferson Gregg, an environmental engineer and project manager with the engineering firm GHD, provided an overview of the more than 13-year project to reduce wastewater nitrogen loading and meet Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for nitrogen loading to Popponesset and Waquoit bays’ eastern basin. The plan is currently under direct review by the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) and will soon be reviewed by the Cape Cod Commission.

Initial implementation of the plan will lead with shellfish aquaculture and the use of wastewater treatment facilities at Joint Base Cape Cod to serve Mashpee’s Quashnet River watershed, as well as portions of Sandwich and possibly Falmouth.

One integral component to the effort, Mr. Gregg said, has been the work of shellfish constable Richard H. York Jr. in building a shellfish program.

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However, he added, “We knew that shellfish aquaculture would be a big part of that [plan] but we also knew the unknown that was associated with shellfish aquaculture, so we knew there would be a fallback plan.”

To address this issue, the plan includes both traditional and hybrid solutions, such as permeable reactive barriers, bog and wetland restoration, and on-site systems for wastewater treatment, in addition to shellfish aquaculture. The town may have to utilize more traditional solutions, he said, if the shellfish program does not achieve adequate levels of nitrogen removal.

A draft report by the Cape Cod Commission was presented by watershed management director Thomas C. Cambareri, who said that the organization requests more details on various components of the plan related to the Final Environmental Impact Report, the local and regional plan to collaborate with the base, and the characterization of nitrogen reduction, and others.

Because a “substantial amount of cutting-edge work on aquaculture” will be required in the first five years, he said, the commission staff suggests that the town consider submitting a Phase 1 Waiver, which will allow it to move forward with shellfish aquaculture, one of the wastewater treatment facilities and collection areas, and adjust the necessary institutional structure of the town’s wastewater management.

Considering residents who may be watching the televised meeting from home, sewer commission member Joseph Lyons sought to simplify the issue.

“What we have here is a problem where there’s just too many people for natural mitigation to take care of the nitrogen that we have each personally put into the ground,” he said, adding that that nitrogen flows into two major watersheds, Popponesset and Waquoit bays. “What’s happened over the past 10 or 15 years is that the best scenarios people can think of have been evaluated and where possible, it’s been tested, but they keep changing.”

The unknowns are the amount of time that nitrogen removal will take and the amount of action that it will initially require. The plan will be stretched over a long period of time and it will be a learning process, Mr. Lyons said.

The only additional public comment was offered by Falmouth resident Edward J. DeWitt, the executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, who noted a lack of involvement of the Town of Falmouth concerning wastewater plans for Waquoit Bay.

“We have Mashpee working independently and not in conjunction and I think that’s unfortunate and it’s something that I think the secretary of energy and environmental affairs is going to have to address if we are going to proceed with targeted watershed solutions on Cape Cod,” he said.

Mr. DeWitt also expressed disappointment over the plan’s “heavy” reliance on aquaculture, saying that it should include more extensive land use procedures, such as vegetative buffers around ponds and embayments.

Also missing in the plan, he said, is the “close nexus between stormwater management and aquaculture.”

Sewer commission chairman F. Thomas Fudala responded that the commission has been in contact with Falmouth, but that it was disappointing that the town did not include Waquoit in their initial proposals for wastewater management.

“In terms of land use I’m not sure what your issues are,” he said, explaining that Mashpee has many mandatory related bylaws in place, as well as strict zoning regulations related to stormwater management.

Upon being invited by Mr. Fudala to speak, Mr. York explained that the town, in collaboration with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe—which has contributed to pollution reduction in Popponesset Bay with its own oyster farm—and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, has conducted extensive analysis of aquaculture and has also utilized county-wide research on quahogs and oysters conducted by the Barnstable County Cooperative Extension. The plan was developed using hard data, he said, and he would not have proposed it if he believed it would not work.

Written comments on the plan will be accepted by mail to the MEPA office until September 15.

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