Time To Build A Treatment Plant - Guest Opinion

Bourne Selectman Steve Mealy says the time has come for Bourne to step up and build a wastewater treatment plant in Buzzards Bay. At a meeting of the selectmen in their role as sewer commissioners earlier this month, it became painfully clear that no new development of any significance can happen in Bourne’s downtown without more sewer capacity.

Two important considerations underlie Mr. Mealy’s call for action. First, Bourne residents designated the village of Buzzards Bay for growth when they approved the town’s Local Comprehensive Plan. Second, town leaders have created an environment that supports growth, but now need to make the financial investment to enable that growth.

For more than a dozen years, the Bourne Financial Development Corporation, backed by the Cape Cod Canal Area Chamber of Commerce, has led the effort to revitalize Bourne’s downtown. The town has supported this effort by changing the zoning, adopting architectural design standards, upgrading the streetscape and getting the area designated a Growth Incentive Zone in order to streamline the permitting process.

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Voters at several Town Meetings have endorsed these changes by large majorities, and the state has contributed substantial funding to the town’s efforts. There are still too many vacant storefronts and obsolete buildings downtown, but Main Street has once again become a busy place, anchored at one end by the Veterans Memorial Community Center and at the other end by the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

As with most issues of public policy, there are two widely divergent schools of thought about Buzzards Bay. One group wants to keep things as they have been, encouraging only small scale development and gradual improvements. The other group sees great potential for more intensive development that would take advantage of ocean views to expand the tax base without adding traffic to the bridges.

Before beneficial growth can occur, though, three areas of public facilities need to be expanded: water supply, electric service and wastewater disposal. Of these three, wastewater disposal is by far the most expensive and difficult. Buzzards Bay has the advantage of a sewer system of pipes and pumps already in place, so it won’t have to dig up all the streets again.

Treatment is done by Wareham, however, and is limited to a maximum of 200,000 gallons per day. While actual flows are typically about half that volume, nearly all of the contractual limit has been committed to properties already in place or under construction. New development will need new capacity before much more can be built.

The town has identified Queen Sewell Park as being an ideal site for subsurface disposal of highly treated wastewater. Disposal beds would all be underground, with playing fields and parking lots on the surface. A site has not yet been identified for a treatment plant.

Community leaders have hoped that a public/private partnership with one or more developers would lead to funding and construction of treatment facilities. It is now apparent that the cost of a treatment plant far exceeds what any developer could afford, and there is serious question whether such a plant can be built within Main Street’s 100-year flood plain.

A 100,000-gallon per day treatment plant, along with disposal fields and connecting pipes, will cost about the same as the new DPW garage. While the new garage is a long overdue and essential facility that will reduce equipment maintenance and replacement costs, it will never generate a single dollar in new tax revenue.

A wastewater treatment plant, along with the seemingly inevitable extension of commuter rail service to Buzzards Bay, is likely to entice new development that adds tens of millions of dollars to Bourne’s tax base. And therein may lay the answer to how to pay for the plant.

The cost of engineering and permitting would be borne by connection fees and contributions from developers, state grant proceeds, and possibly some town funds. Construction would be financed by a low interest loan from a state program set up for that purpose. Debt service on the loan would then be paid primarily from a portion of the additional tax revenues generated from the new development.

Mr. Mealy is right that it’s time to take action. Developers are ready to move, and town standards are in place. Now it’s time to make a commitment to finish the job of Bourne’s downtown revitalization.

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