While the implementation of Mashpee’s wastewater management plan has remained largely stagnant, the board of selectmen on Monday, September 16, turned to Sandwich and Orleans—where similar projects have progressed—for perspective.
Sandwich Town Manager George H. (Bud) Dunham and former Orleans selectman Alan McClennan gave presentations on what each of their towns has done to address wastewater.
The special meeting Monday was the first of several scheduled by the Mashpee selectmen as they aim to have articles concerning wastewater ready for May Town Meeting.
Mr. McClennan pointed to the money Orleans will likely save by getting out ahead on the wastewater issue.
“You want to be on the right side of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” he said.
By acting before the state orders the town to act through an enforcement order or a court order, Mr. McClennan estimated Orleans will save “$15 million on the capital part and $3 million on construction.”
To members of the public attending the meeting, selectman Andrew R. Gottlieb explained, “You’re only eligible by law for the principal forgiveness and the zero interest if your project is not subject to an enforcement order or a federal court order.”
Like Mashpee, the Orleans Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan includes sewering significant parts of that town—about 52 percent.
In Orleans, “We’re going to focus on the two areas that need to be sewered no matter what,” Mr. McClennan said. Those two areas, he said, represent about 24 percent of the town.
While Orleans worked toward getting those areas sewered first, Mr. McClennan said the town also worked with the Cape Cod Commission to explore alternative approaches to address excess nitrogen in their watersheds, including shellfish aquaculture, permeable reactive barriers, and floating constructed wetlands.
Mashpee’s wastewater management plan also calls for the use of shellfish aquaculture and estimates that the use of shellfish to remove excess nitrogen from the water could reduce the total costs of the plan by millions.
Shellfish aquaculture has been implemented in Mashpee to an extent, but has yet to reach the level of implementation called for in the town’s wastewater management plan.
“Through this effort and looking at alternative approaches we believe we’ve reduced a $152 million original estimate to about $97 million,” Mr. McClennan said of wastewater management in the Town of Orleans.
Orleans Town Meetings have approved seven debt exclusions, including voting to appropriate $3.8 million to put sewer pipes in downtown Orleans, he said. The pipes in downtown Orleans have been laid, though they are not yet hooked up to a treatment plant, he said.
“The people who participated in this project understood that this is not something that is going to go away,” Mr. McClennan said.
In Sandwich, which shares parts of the Popponesset and Waquoit watersheds with Mashpee, Town Meeting also has passed articles to begin implementation of a wastewater strategy.
Among those approved wastewater measures was one that authorize the town to set aside land for wastewater treatment and disposal as well as a measure which reduced Community Preservation Act funds in order to fund wastewater infrastructure.
Mr. Dunham, the Sandwich town manager, said reducing the CPA funding was a “hard decision” but “with wastewater being our number one problem,” diverting money to wastewater infrastructure took priority.
The Mashpee selectmen considered a similar tradeoff of CPA funds for wastewater infrastructure funds, but voted earlier this summer to remove an article that would have put the decision to voters at the October Town Meeting.
Also removed from Mashpee’s October Town Meeting were two articles that would have permitted the town to appropriate more than $2 million for the construction of a sewer system and treatment plant for the Popponesset watershed.
Part of Sandwich’s success in passing wastewater-related measures at Town Meeting included a public outreach campaign, Mr. Dunham said.
To explain the need to address wastewater, Mr. Dunham said, Sandwich worked to “get people to understand it in the simplest terms possible.”
As part of the outreach campaign, the town commissioned several videos to be made—costing about $2,000 apiece. In the videos, the town’s health director broke down the wastewater issues facing Sandwich and how and why they should be addressed.
Like Mashpee, Sandwich is looking at whether Joint Base Cape Cod could provide an answer to its wastewater problems, Mr. Dunham said. Questions remain, however, about the amount of area for effluent discharge available at the site and who will eventually come to own the wastewater treatment facilities available there.
“I would hope within the next year we would know better is the base is a possibility,” Mr. Dunham said. He noted that if the base is available, Sandwich could run sewer lines to the base rather than constructing a treatment plant in town.
“In the long run that would be even cheaper than if we did it on our own,” he said.
However, if the treatment plant is not available, Mr. Dunham said, the construction of a treatment plant at the end of Jan Sebastian Drive in Sandwich could potentially have room to treat wastewater from parts of Mashpee and parts of Barnstable.
“I don’t think there’s anything of this that we should all be doing on our own,” he said. “We should all be trying to help each other.”
Of the efforts taken in Sandwich thus far, Mr. Dunham said, “We left something that people 50 years from now will say, ‘Thank God they did that.’”