'Plan B' A Hope, Not A Plan

A committee that calls itself the “Plan B Committee” is urging voters not to approve Question 1 on the May 20 ballot. A column outlining the committee’s position appears today opposite the editorial page. In essence, the committee argues that sewering the neighborhoods around Little Pond will not solve the problem of nitrogen pollution in the pond, is too costly, and is too energy intensive. Plan B, as they see it, is to employ alternative technologies and aquaculture to clean up Little Pond.

Their arguments appear sensible on the surface but they are, in fact, a combination of wishful thinking and scare tactics. We hope voters will give careful consideration to their points and fully test the logic before going to the polls.

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This group has some valid points. For one, Plan B as they define it is actually Plan A for Waquoit Bay and its connecting estuaries, Bournes Pond and Great Pond. It is also a good plan for Oyster Pond, West Falmouth Harbor and Megansett. It is, for those water bodies, a good plan.

It is not a good plan for Little Pond. Little Pond is a small, narrow estuary surrounded by very high density development. Indications are that oyster culture can improve the water quality there, but it will not solve the problem. Inlet widening could help, but it won’t solve the problem. Reactive permeable barriers might help, too. Floating vegetative beds would no doubt be effective, but their extensive use would block sunlight to the pond, which could have an unacceptable adverse impact.

It is fantasy to think that the town can mobilize all these alternative technologies effectively in an acceptable period of time even if they could be proven to work in Little Pond.
The group argues that sewers are not the best technology. Well, they are right; they aren’t. But we have a pretty good idea of what they can do, and one thing they do is capture contaminants  such as pharmaceuticals and other chemicals that are flushed down drains. It is not yet known what those contaminants are doing to the environment.

The group points to the cost to homeowners in the sewer service area, who they say will be “unduly burdened” by a betterment of $600 and the cost of hooking up to the sewer system. This is naive in the best light, but is likely more of a scare tactic.

Yes, $600 a year and several thousand dollars to connect is a lot of money, but homeownership costs a lot of money. There is no getting around it. A new septic system costs a lot of money. Installing eco-toilets would cost a lot. It costs a lot to replace a roof or put new siding on a home, both of which are inevitable at some point. In the larger scheme of things, $600 a year and the cost of connecting to a sewer are hardly onerous.

The Plan B Committee states that there is no state mandate to sewer. That is true. But to deny that there are political forces at work regionally that give urgency to acting on a wastewater plan that includes sewering is foolish. Falmouth, and every other town on the Cape, cannot ignore the lawsuit that was brought against the county and federal EPA by the Conservation Law Foundation and the Buzzards Bay Coalition. Failure to approve Question 1 will not escape the attention of the CLF, with its deep pockets, and others.

There are carbon costs, the committee points out. Yes, there are, but we as a town and as a nation are not going to confront climate change by arbitrarily shutting down projects that require energy; there has to be a coherent energy policy and plan, and Falmouth is actually doing pretty well at that. It seems to have escaped this group that the town’s

wastewater facility is partially powered by wind energy.

It bears repeating that alternatives to sewering are a very large part of Falmouth’s wastewater management plan. Sewering is, in fact, a small part of it. It is unfortunate that the Plan B Committee is planning to scuttle the plan before it hardly gets underway. It is unfortunate that the group is not willing to compromise. 

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