Too pricey and too soon, or environmental imperative? Monday night’s board of selectmen meeting was standing room only, brimming with residents and wastewater committee members debating in favor or against ballot Question 1—the comprehensive wastewater management plan.
“I voted yes last year to Question 1. But slowly, after looking at the plan, I’ve changed my mind. I urge you all to do the same,” said Peter L. Waasdorf, Beccles Road, treasurer of the newly formed Plan B Committee.
“The easiest thing to do is say no. That is not the answer,” said Eric T. Turkington, chairman of the water quality management committee.
Question 1 asks voters to approve on May 20 a $49.8 million four-pronged plan that includes connecting nearly 1,500 homes near Little Pond to the town sewer. It also employs alternative eco-solutions to tackle the lesser degraded bodies of water.
Both sides agree that Falmouth’s estuaries are being force-fed nitrogen and the warning signs are there—fish kills, the disappearance of the herring, the decline of the shellfisheries, and algae blooms—but they disagree on the urgency, the price, and the method of cleaning the ponds.
The wastewater plan calls for alternative demonstration projects, including planting oysters, installing eco-toilets, using permeable reactive barriers, and inlet widening. Mr. Turkington stressed Question 1 only calls for sewering where absolutely necessary.
Mr. Waasdorf contends that the cheaper alternatives that will be used in other estuaries around town should also be used in Little Pond in lieu of the costly sewer project. He said growing oyster beds can directly reduce nitrogen levels including “legacy pollution” already soaked in the groundwater that continues to flow to the estuaries. Sewers, he contends, will only treat new pollution.
Virginia Valiela, the wastewater quality management committee’s vice chairman, responded by citing her committee’s work on the eco-projects.
“We’re using oysters in Little Pond, but they can’t do the job alone. They will be used to get rid of 12 percent of the nitrogen,” Ms. Valiela said.
She said Little Pond residents had said no to widening the inlet for fear of tide and rising water levels and that the eco-toilet demonstration has not really taken off yet.
“Using eco-toilets is a homeowner decision. We notified 24,000 properties owners about our eco-toilet project, and only six took us up on it. The alternatives are just not ready yet,” she said.
Mr. Turkington said if Question 1 does not pass, the state will return to its prior demand that Falmouth connect all the homes to town sewer on its southern peninsulas, from Falmouth Heights to Seacoast Shores
“The state can come in and say, ‘I told you so,’ ” he said.
Ms. Valiela added that the state is mandated to carry out the provisions of the Federal Clean Air Act and, gradually, it will set water quality standards for each pond around the commonwealth.
“It’s a scare tactic,” Mr. Waasdorp said. “There is not an immediate mandate by the state. We have the time to employ better projects.”
He said the department of environmental protection (DEP) only requires that progress be made in a town’s wastewater cleanup efforts.
Among the vocal residents to speak against Question 1 was Matthew J. McNamara of Childs River Road, Waquoit, who said Mr. Turkington made false promises to Maravista homeowners by stating they could build additions to their homes when they connect to the sewer.
“But it’s really a zoning bylaw. It should be made clear that homeowners still need to seek approval from the zoning board,” Mr. McNamara said.
Mr. Turkington wrote in a column in the Enterprise that homeowners “can add bedrooms or a garage where they couldn’t before, increasing substantially to the value of their homes.”
Ms. Valiela responded to Mr. McNamara saying the zoning board would have to review the parcels on a case-by-case basis, but the potential to add on is there.
Both sides agree the Little Pond sewer betterment will cost homeowners $600 a year for 30 years based on a zero percent state revolving loan. But, Mr. Waasdorp said that is not accurately representing the full cost to homeowners. Based on a water quality management committee breakdown, the project will cost $1,123 to $1,248 per year, which includes the $600 betterment, a sewer usage charge, electricity, and apportioned hookup fee.
“Many of these residents are older and are on fixed incomes of $12,000 to $15,000 per year. Some of my neighbors have told me they will have to move,” said Alma Road resident Edward F. Jalowiec.
“This project is an enormous amount of money and an enormous undertaking. But all of our 15 estuaries are in trouble. This is our opportunity to do this without raising taxes and with a zero percent loan,” Mr. Turkington said.
The conversation will continue Monday night when town officials will hold an open informational meeting on the homeowner costs of Little Pond neighborhood sewer project. The meeting will be held at 7 PM at the Teaticket Elementary School.