Get Up Off Of Your Hands, Selectmen - Editorial

The time has come, as selectman Stephen Mealy said last week, for the town’s leadership to “get off of their hands” and make some real progress toward solving Buzzards Bay’s wastewater conundrum.

It was made clear during the sewer commissioners’ meeting last week—when Mr. Mealy made his remark—that the town has reached a point where if nothing  is done to expand the village’s wastewater options, the town can forget about future development or redevelopment of the downtown area. It can forget about all the work that went into the new Growth Incentive Zone, forget about attracting a hotel and conference center, forget about turning Main Street back into a thriving business district. Because if the village can’t handle the wastewater that these new businesses produce, the businesses won’t come. Period.

Last week, the sewer commissioners were discussing a development group’s plans to build a hotel and conference center, restaurant and housing units on a 15-acre plot on Perry Avenue.

As part of the project, the group has asked the town for permission to tie into the village’s sewer lines. The problem is, the sewer lines carry the downtown’s wastewater to a treatment facility in Wareham. And Wareham only allows the town to send a limited number of gallons per day. Wastewater from the proposed development would overwhelm that limit.

The developer was frustrated by this news, and rightfully so.

For many years, the town has known that a lack of options for dealing with wastewater in the downtown district would be a huge obstacle to any large-scale development or redevelopment of the area.

The town has done numerous studies, which have cost thousands of dollars, but still, no real, physical progress has been made to actually expand wastewater capacity.

In recent months, the town’s Wastewater Advisory Committee had built up some momentum toward finding a solution to the problem. The group has successfully worked to identify Queen Sewell Park as an ideal site for underground disposal of treated wastewater. At the end of last month, workers drilled down into the earth to take samples of the soils. One of the holes was drilled to 80 feet. In each instance, nothing but sand was found—perfect for underground discharge of treated wastewater.

The group hoped to carry work on the site even further but learned back in April that they had missed out on a $75,000 grant from Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management to pay for it.

It’s time for selectmen to step in and take charge. It’s not really a matter of money, because the town doesn’t have any to spend. What the town has is a staff of professional who can help plan a wastewater solution and guide it through the permitting process.

The town needs a partner—perhaps this development group—that can fund the work. But maybe this hotel and conference center is the wrong project for Buzzards Bay. It’s too early to tell. But if it is not this developer, then it needs to be the next one.

This sort of public-private partnership is the only affordable option for the town. Selectmen need to act. 

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