Falmouth to Study Alternative Wastewater Treatment Strategies
By: Elise R. Hugus
Falmouth will have all the information it needs to make a decision on its wastewater treatment strategy, following Town meeting members’ approval Wednesday night of a $2.77 million package to study a range of alternative systems and develop a preliminary sewer design.
In its vote, Town Meeting unanimously approved funding for six projects aimed at reducing the nitrogen load to Falmouth’s estuaries and studies of four coastal ponds, in addition to a preliminary design for the first phase of a proposed sewer system.
What voters will decide in May
Voters will see a $2,772,250 debt exclusion question on the May ballot, which would fund:
- A shellfish aquaculture and nitrogen reduction demonstration project, with a committee composed of Shellfish Warden R. Charles Martinsen and local aquaculture experts to determine the best site, for $200,000.
- The design, permitting, and expansion of the inlets to Bournes Pond and/or Little Pond, for $350,000.
- A feasibility study for a permeable reactive barrier demonstration project, for $250,000.
- The design, permitting, and construction to remediate road runoff to Little Pond, for $100,000.
- Six Clivus Multrum composting toilets at municipal locations, including town beaches, for $150,000.
- Demonstrations and related studies of composting, packaging, and urine-diverting toilets and denitrifying septic systems at homes and businesses in the project area, for $500,000.
The purpose of the studies would be to determine the acceptability and effectiveness of alternative toilets and would include—
• Education on operation on effective use and water conservation
• System monitoring
• The development of a system for compost and urine management
• The cost to re-install the original toilets, if deemed necessary after the study
• A comparative economic analysis of alternative systems
• And determination of compliance with regulatory requirements and certifications
- Pre- and post-construction surveys, sampling, and water quality monitoring to establish baseline data on the impact of the above demonstration projects, for $250,000.
- A design and permit plan for Oyster Pond to meet its Total Maxiumum Daily Load (TMDL) limits, for $300,000.
- The town’s share of TMDL studies for Quissett Harbor, Falmouth Harbor, and Salt Pond, to be completed by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s School of Marine Science and Technology, for $172,250.
- Preliminary design for a sewer system for neighborhoods south of Route 28 from Little Pond to Seapit Peninsula, using the West Falmouth Wastewater Treatment Facility, for $500,000.
The money would be under the jurisdiction of the board of selectmen, which has flexibility in the actual dollar amounts spent on each project.
The funds would be raised through a debt exclusion that will not affect property taxes, subject to voters’ approval of the ballot question in May.
In a marked departure from the heated debate at precinct meetings leading up to this week’s Town Meeting, the two camps advocating for sewers or ecologically designed toilets appeared to reach a compromise.
Both Virginia Valiela, as spokesman for a committee convened last year to review the town’s wastewater management plan, and Matthew C. Patrick, a former state representative and Precinct Seven Town Meeting member, called for an amendment that would reduce the money for the sewer pre-design by half, instead adding $500,000 to a demonstration project of composting, urine-diverting, and packaging toilets in residents’ homes.
The amendment, submitted by Mr. Patrick, also removed funding for current sewer line repairs.
In her explanation to Town Meeting members, Ms. Valiela said the review committee supported Mr. Patrick’s amendment and had concluded that cutting its original projection from $1 million to $500,000 would be “sufficient” to develop a preliminary sewer design.
“Funding mechanisms had been developed last fall,” when the committee completed its recommendations, said Ms. Valiela. “We now know more about alternative toilet technologies than we did last fall.”
Peter F. Boyer, a member of the review committee from Precinct Five, said the preliminary design would answer two questions: the cost of the entire sewer system, if built, and whether the West Falmouth treatment plant could handle the additional capacity.
Review committee member Stephen D. Rafferty added that the design would give more specific information about the number, size, and depth of the pipes in a potential sewer system, using the current wastewater treatment plant in West Falmouth.
A draft of the comprehensive wastewater management plan estimates put the cost of sewering the neighborhoods south of Route 28 from Little Pond to Seapit Peninsula at $290 million, but Mr. Boyer pointed out that this figure is a rough estimate.
The sewer project would be the most expensive municipal project in Falmouth’s history, said Mr. Patrick, who warned that raising property taxes and imposing homeowner betterment fees to pay for it could force middle- and low-income residents to move.
“We have a very economically diverse community. If we decide to sewer, we could turn this into a gated community like Chatham or Nantucket,” he said.
Working with a group of residents, Mr. Patrick said that the group calculated the costs of installing alternative toilets in 8,000 homes would cost $28 million, while also putting local plumbers to work.
He added that the technologies could remove up to 88 percent of a typical household’s nitrogen output almost immediately. In combination with inlet widening and shellfish aquaculture, the town may be able to meet its maximum daily nitrogen loading limits, he said.
“It’s economically and environmentally smart... to determine whether eco-toilets are applicable before forging ahead with the biggest public works project in our history,” Mr. Patrick said.
He went on to debunk some of the arguments against sewering alternatives, including a rumor that he stands to personally profit from the mass installation of eco-toilets.
“Regrettably, my integrity has again been questioned by people who think I’m doing this to promote my own interests. While it is true that [alternative toilets] will create many jobs, I won’t have any part of it,” he said.
Instead, Mr. Patrick said, it is the single mother who is struggling to pay the bills, the teacher who is worried about getting laid off, and the newlyweds who are not sure if they can make enough money to continue living in Falmouth who will benefit.
“These are the people I care about. I know Falmouth is a caring community and I want to make sure it stays that way,” he said.
Falmouth: a leader in alternatives
His appeal did not fall on deaf ears. Several Town Meeting members spoke in support of the article as amended, bringing up its potential social and environmental benefits.
Leslie R. Lichtenstein, of Precinct Eight, reminded her fellow town meeting members that when the town’s wastewater treatment plant was first built, it was the first in the state to use new technologies.
“Falmouth should try to lead the state in alternatives the way we did before,” she said.
Carol Murphy, of Precinct Nine, pointed out that a demonstration project for six composting toilets amounts to $25,000 per toilet, and asked for a cost-comparison between eco-toilets and sewering.
Mr. Patrick said that many composting toilet models cost closer to $5,000 and urine-diverting and packaging toilets are far less.
“What’s more important than the cost of the toilet is the cost of installation,” he said.
Hilde Maingay, a resident of Common Way, said that the costs depend on how many toilets are needed, plus shipping and installation, which would likely add up to $10,000 to $15,000 per household.
“This is one of the reasons for the need for more studies,” she said.
Mr. Boyer said that sewering fees would likely be paid through a combination of betterments and taxes spread among all residents over 25 to 40 years. A simple calculation, dividing $290 million by 7,500 households, amounts to roughly $38,000 per household.
Safeguards for the future
Gregory S. Pinto, of Precinct Three, wondered if a homeowner with an alternative technology installed would receive an exemption from the sewer connection.
“If there’s no exemption, there’s no point in going forward with these things. I personally live in that 100 percent [nitrogen removal] zone. I know there’s a sewer coming down my street,” he said.
Mr. Patrick replied that there is no exemption on the books because the town’s nitrogen reduction strategy has not been decided yet.
“If we decide it does make sense to do eco-toilets, homeowners can keep their toilet. If we decide it doesn’t make sense, there is money included for putting the old toilet back into the house, if the homeowner wants it,” he said.
Moderator David T. Vieira asked if anyone wished to speak in opposition to the article. “I’d hate to go an hour and a half if we’re all in agreement,” he said.
Brian Nickerson, Precinct Two, said he had been in favor of the original article, but would vote against the amendment because he was not convinced that alternative toilets would prevent pharmaceuticals from infiltrating the groundwater.
“I don’t think the water is going to be clean and healthy. I’d hate to see us asking 20 years down the road, ‘Why were we worried about nitrogen when there was XYZ?’ ” he said.
Mr. Patrick responded that it would be easier to control and remove contaminants of concern from urine that had not been diluted with fresh water.
“It’s much less expensive to catch it at the source,” he said, admitting that potential toxins in household gray water would still be processed in septic systems.
Mr. Vieira then called a vote on Mr. Patrick’s motion to amend Article 17. It passed with a majority voice vote. A vote on the article as amended was approved unanimously.
“Town Meeting did the right thing,” said Wastewater Superintendent Gerald C. Potamis. “It was acknowledged that demonstration projects needed to be done in order to make a decision.”
1 Responses to "Falmouth to Study Alternative Wastewater Treatment Strategies"
Leave a Reply
In order to comment you need to be logged in.