Mashpee residents at Town Meeting on May 3 will have the opportunity to vote to begin construction on a sewer system that is part of the town’s long-delayed plan to remediate nitrogen pollution in local embayments.
Mashpee Board of Selectmen voted unanimously at their virtual on Monday, March 22, to approve and recommend passage of a Town Meeting article that will request a $54 million debt exclusion for the construction of a wastewater treatment plant and adjoined sewer system. Another unanimous vote by the selectmen executed the Town Meeting warrant.
“We’re finally in a situation where we’re ready,” said John J. Cotton, the chairman of the selectmen. “We have our financing and our financial structure prepared to have very minimal costs to the townspeople.”
To pass, the debt exclusion, which is not expected to result in any tax increases, will require a two-thirds majority at Town Meeting and a majority vote of a ballot question at the May 8 annual election.
The project will include the construction of a wastewater treatment facility adjacent to the Mashpee transfer station, a sewer system stretching west along Route 28 to Quinaquisset Avenue and south down Orchard Road and part of Mashpee Neck Road, and two pump stations.
The wastewater project constitutes phase one of Mashpee’s five-phase Comprehensive Watershed Nitrogen Management Plan. The plan, which the town finalized more than five years ago, contemplates using sewer systems as the primary means of remediating nitrogen pollution that causes annual algae blooms, ecological damage and potential recreational closures in the town’s embayments.
The first phase of the project will not include a sewer pipe stretching the length of Meetinghouse Road toward Town Hall, as the comprehensive plan had originally laid out.
“It was recommended to the sewer commission last week by [the project engineers] that that area be dropped from this phase,” said Selectman Andrew R. Gottlieb. “There are very few service connections per mile of pipe because there is a lot of open space that is tribal housing lands, and so you travel a long distance to not get very many service connections.”
Rather than increase the cost of the first phase by an additional $12 million to reach the service area near Town Hall, “we’ll probably look at taking a different route” to the area during a later phase of sewering, Mr. Gottlieb said.
The first phase of the wastewater project will receive financing through a variety of sources that mitigate the need for further tax increases. The town has a dedicated Wastewater Infrastructure Investment Fund that was established at Town Meeting last fall, as well as funds from a local short-term rental tax.
In January, the state gave the project a high rank on a draft intended use plan for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, a program that would provide 2 percent interest loans for the entire cost of the project and 3.3 percent principal forgiveness on those loans.
To qualify for the low-interest loans, Mashpee voters will have to approve the construction of the project at Town Meeting. By qualifying for the loans through the state revolving fund, the project will also qualify for principal forgiveness through the Cape and Islands Water Protection Fund.
The interest rate on the state revolving fund loans could be further reduced from 2 percent to 0 percent if Town Meeting voters also approve flow neutral regulations, a step that several other Cape Cod towns, including Falmouth, have taken and that would save the town millions of dollars.
The flow neutral regulations would mandate that parcels of property in sewer service areas eliminate any septic systems, which are the primary source of nitrogen pollution, and be connected to the sewer system.
The flow neutral regulations would also set limits to the amount of flow allowed from any given property. For existing and new development of single-family residences on parcels of 40,000 square feet or less, four bedrooms would be allowed by right.
The Mashpee selectmen voted to recommend that Town Meeting voters pass an article to establish flow neutral regulations.
The selectmen also voted unanimously on Monday to authorize Town Manager Rodney C. Collins to send a letter to US Representative William R. Keating (D-Bourne) asking the congressman to seek funding for the town’s wastewater projects in an upcoming infrastructure bill.
A third Town Meeting article related to the wastewater project that will be before Mashpee voters in May is an article that seeks to allow the town to use a parcel of conservation land off Mashpee Neck Road for a pump station.
Years of inaction to address nitrogen pollution caused primarily by septic systems prompted the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental law firm, to threaten a potential lawsuit against the Town of Mashpee last fall.
The proposed lawsuit, which would seek a court order to halt septic inspections and installations in Mashpee, alleges that the town violates Title V of the Massachusetts Environmental Code every time a septic system that discharges nitrogen-laden effluent is permitted or passes inspection.
Mr. Cotton, the chairman of the selectmen, has previously cited the upcoming Town Meeting vote on the wastewater project as evidence that the town remains committed to addressing nitrogen pollution. Town Meeting will be held at the Mashpee Middle-High School with indoor and outdoor seating areas that will be linked by video and audio.