The comments below are solely my own. They are intended to support all of the Town officials, employees, volunteer committee and conservation staff, and community members who strive to preserve Mashpee’s natural resources.
At this time, there is opposition to the planned development and expansion of Mashpee and to the continued decline of our remaining natural resources. These negatives are not the vision embraced by many Mashpee residents.
Dr. Brian Howes’s recent water quality report was a litany of findings concerning the unabated collapse of our waterways and loss of marine habitat. When issued, the Town should brace itself for the latest 2021 water quality report, as early findings (“Winkler tests”) suggest a faster track to even greater plummeting of oxygen levels and water clarity.
In sum, the timing of the existing Mashpee Clean Water Plan is wholly inadequate to cope with the scale of the problem. The first phase has been approved, but so far none of the efforts the Town has undertaken to reduce the level of nitrogen pollution is working to make a definitive impact. The first of the five phases of the sewer plan was delayed four years and is still in the planning stages.
The Town’s ponds now pose a very serious public health issues with cyanobacteria, as they do in other communities. There has been apparently loose enforcement of the 2015 rules on fertilizer use. Last week the Town finally received a discouraging report on a septic system assessments near pond frontage. The necessary emptying of cesspools and septic systems was cited. A two-year study of Mashpee/Wakeby is now also proposed.
The Master Water Plan asserts that the underfunded shellfish program alone will eliminate all excess nitrogen in Waquoit Bay embayments and rivers. This contention is a virtual pipe dream. The shellfish program is beneficial but only as a complementary effort; it should be supported. Around the period from 2041 to 2045, sewer services are scheduled to be available in phase 5—too late to rescue the marine life. This sole reliance on the shellfish program was sold as a relatively inexpensive and convenient solution to defer the reckoning and need for essential sewer services.
But the shellfish program has obstacles. With the “reputation risk” of the worst impaired embayments, what will the market demand be for the cultivated oysters? To extract the nitrogen, the task to actually harvest millions of nitrogen laden quahogs will be a formidable job to accomplish.
Yet faced with dire circumstances that remain unresolved, why does the Town have the temerity to support and sponsor more development that benefits so select few yet diminishes the environmental sustainability for so many? Again, when will conservation have ascendancy over new groundbreaking? With more planned urbanization, how will the Wampanoags achieve environmental justice in their bond with a natural world that is disappearing before their very eyes?
The Mashpee Commons expansion plans (as many as 1,700 units plus vast commercial expansion), and more ongoing construction in sensitive areas, will only inflate the nitrogen load. The demand for fresh water will expand exponentially. It is just piling on to the existing environmental damage and stress. Even with privately treated sewerage, countless millions upon millions of additional gallons of effluent will have to be dumped somewhere/somehow away from water aquifer recharge zones and be transported to the coastline for dispersal.
The Town leadership and Planning Board (with their newly selected consultant) have a real ethical dilemma to confront. Will observers in hindsight say that the Town fully knew or should have known the reasons for an impeding environmental collapse yet chose deliberately not to put restraints on insatiable growth? Will there be culpability for a misguided pathway that will leave a regrettable legacy?
Why can’t the Town sponsor its own affordable housing and not be at the behest of the Mashpee Commons developers? The developers appear to have persuaded the planning board of their indispensability in leveraging their project on this issue.
Now is the time for the Town to consider a dynamic pivot to new initiatives. Namely, the Town should resolve to accelerate the timeline dramatically to install sewer services and complete the task within five to seven years.
Also, the Town needs to take action that demonstrates intervention. To reduce environmental impact, the Town should impose a building moratorium on new site construction within at least a 1 mile radius from all waterways, to all “sensitive areas,” and put the Mashpee Commons expansion in abeyance until the Town is fully sewered. At this juncture, it is the responsible action to take.
These are hard measures, but overdue. The public is becoming more disturbed by effects of climate change, the concern on the safety and conservation of its drinking water, the awareness of the need to take effective action to save its waterways, and the need to preserve their health and the value of their property. Now is the time.
Donald E. Barton