Troy's Take: An Imperative For Falmouth's Future
By: TROY CLARKSON, May 13, 2014
Virginia Valiela and John Waterbury have done their time. Legends, both of them, in the annals of our locale for more nearly three-quarters of a century of combined dedication and devotion to building a better community, these two civic champions could easily be comfortably resting at home, content with lives of purpose well lived. These two, though, have much more to give. They have much more purpose to live and are more energized than ever.
I met with them both this week to discuss Questions 1 and 2 on the upcoming local ballot, coming to a polling place near you (well, not-so-near-you in some parts of town) on Tuesday, May 20. Question 1 seeks approval for $49 million to implement the first phase of the town’s wastewater management program. Question 2 seeks $46 million to fund the construction of a water filtration and treatment facility near Long Pond, the town’s primary drinking water source.
Appropriating nearly $100 million in public funds is serious and complex business. Understandably, the public has requested detailed answers and justification from our decision-makers. As ambassadors of accurate information and guardians of good government for decades, Virginia and John are just the pair to explain and advocate for these separate but equally imperative projects.
As I sat, sipped coffee and shared smiles with two former rivals, I couldn’t help but relish an enjoyably wistful view of the flashback playing in my noggin. I offered a glimpse to Virginia and John, and we all laughed heartily and knowingly, grateful for their wisdom then and now and my maturity—now and most certainly not then. The scene was a board of health hearing at Morse Pond School. The date was 1994 or so, and the issue was smoking in restaurants. John was the committed public health official, taking a stand and making an unwavering commitment to public health. Virginia, a then-veteran of the board of selectmen, joined him in solidarity and in the sole interest of the public good. They both swallowed a heaping portion of criticism and disdain from skeptics, including a brash and controversial neophyte selectman who lobbed a couple of razor-like verbal missiles, worked the crowd into a frenzy, then marched out of the meeting in dramatic fashion. Today, two decades later, Virginia and John both still stand as pillars of protection for our environment and our economy, and the neophyte selectman, although some might still label as brash and controversial, is perhaps a bit more pensive and thoughtful.
They were right then and they are right now. As they predicted, our economy did not collapse when smoking was banned in our eating establishments; two decades later we feature “Restaurant Row” on our Main Street.
Today, they are making another prediction—and a plea—that is critical to Falmouth’s future.
Indeed today, Virginia and John are making a dire forecast: If we don’t invest in our wastewater and water infrastructure, our environment and by direct relation our economy, is in fact in jeopardy. That’s no hyperbole. It is true. “It’s easy to say no. It’s harder to have a vision,” noted Virginia, making a clear case, after years of careful planning, for the investment that will see the long-awaited sewering of the Little Pond area, the widening of the Bournes Pond inlet, and some other innovative work. Based on years of careful preparation, hours of analysis, and months of meticulous financial planning by other volunteer stalwarts like former town manager Peter Boyer, the financing for this project can proceed without a discernible impact on our taxes.
The recent spate of odors, fish kills, and deterioration in Little Pond tells a clear and telling tale—our estuaries are in peril, and action is needed now.
Back in 2008, I raised concern that a half-billion dollar project was moving forward rapidly without public input. I admonished the community to get involved and noted, “Taxpayers, pay heed: your chance is now to have your voice heard while the Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan is being developed. This effort cannot be a needs-only driven issue—the costs must drive some of the dialogue—and we cannot be forced into a corner where we are told that “they” have already decided it is a necessity. We—the column writers, firefighters, and tree climbers—are the “they” and we must be consulted before the GDP [gross domestic product] of Grenada is spent in Falmouth.”
It is six years later and the consultation has occurred. When I asked Virginia why she chose to take on such a behemoth political, financial, and environmental undertaking, she noted that in 2010, her reaction was similar to mine a couple of years before. She saw a draft Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan with a price tag of $600 million, and realized in her own words that it was “DOA.” She went to work and generations will reap the benefits. The project is pared down, its costs have been contained, and the community has been informed and engaged.
Rarely do we have a chance to have a positive impact on our community with a minimal impact on our finances. Question 1 does that. Question 1 deserves our support. Question 1 is an imperative for Falmouth’s future.
(Mr. Clarkson may be contacted at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @TroyClarkson59.