After declining an invitation to meet with the Mashpee selectmen last month, two members of the town’s water district commission appeared before the selectmen on Monday, to discuss potential cooperation on issues of wastewater.
The conversation between the district commission members and the selectmen came amid ongoing deliberations about whether the town will ultimately maintain control of wastewater management, or cede jurisdiction to an independent sewer district or a joint water and sewer district.
Selectmen Carol A. Sherman and Thomas F. O’Hara met with the water district after the district declined the selectmen’s invitation to meet in January to discuss forming a joint water and sewer district.
Both parties said that meeting proved fruitful.
While the water district commission has maintained its opposition to forming a joint water and sewer district, the selectmen and district representatives explored possible areas where cooperation could cut costs or ease processes.
“Our discussion always hovered around ‘either/or,’” said Kenneth E. Marsters, a water district commissioner. “Either we do it or we don’t do it. We never got to that area of ‘how can we work together?’”
“We came up with three quick things. They weren’t big things but they were small things,” Mr. Marsters said.
Those “small things” include possibly housing a sewer district office in the same building as the water district, using overlapping clerical staff for both operations, and having the water district do the billing for wastewater, he said.
At the meeting Monday, The chairman of the board of selectmen, Andrew R. Gottlieb, asked whether water district staff have the licenses and expertise to work on wastewater.
“Your staff, if I understand you right, doesn’t have the ability to work Mondays on sewer and Tuesdays on water,” Mr. Gottlieb said.
“They’re not qualified to do it and, secondly, they already have a job to perform,” replied Andrew Marks, the water district operations manager.
Mr. Gottlieb described the notion that the “water district has the equipment and the field staff capable of putting the [sewer] pipe in and managing the system” as an “urban legend.”
Mr. Marsters said that the water district has never laid its own pipe, but always relied on contractors.
Selectman John J. Cotton asked whether, in the water district’s opinion, it “may not be in the best interest of Mashpee to move forward” with a joint sewer and water district, to which Mr. Marsters replied that is “absolutely” the district’s opinion.
While the water district is not interested in the idea of a joint district, Mr. Marks said the district “has taken the position many times that the water district would help in any way we can.”
“We do appreciate your offer of assistance, and I think you can expect us to take you up on it,” Mr. Gottlieb said.
With a joint district off the table, the selectmen briefly considered putting the question of whether to form a sewer district or keep wastewater management in-house to the voters at May Town Meeting.
“I need to know who’s going to drive the bus,” Ms. Sherman said in a colloquial reference to the question of who will manage sewer operations.
“If we throw it out there as a poll to the town, people are going to be like, ‘What does this mean?’” Mr. Cotton said in response to the idea of a Town Meeting article on the question. “I don’t think we have those answers yet.”
Mr. Gottlieb said he thinks the town should maintain control of wastewater management.
“I would like this conversation about town versus the district to be over,” he said. “So part of me wants to say, let’s call a question and put a stake in the heart of the vampire and be done with it.”
However, the selectman said, with an article asking for a $2.4 million debt exclusion to design a wastewater treatment plant and sewer system already on the May warrant, “You might confuse the issue” by also including the question of management.
If the $2.4 million debt exclusion passes, Mr. Gottlieb said, the town would still be in the engineering phase and would not yet have to answer the question of management.
Perhaps that question would be better suited for October Town Meeting, he said. The board proceeded to move on.