Momentum Builds For Three-town Wastewater Treatment Plant

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Wastewater treatment

Officials from Harwich, Dennis and Yarmouth are discussing the concept of a tri-town wastewater treatment plant. FILE PHOTO

DENNIS – Selectmen from Harwich, Dennis and Yarmouth heard a clear message from their wastewater consulting firm relating to the cost savings associated with building a tri-town wastewater treatment plant that would be located in Dennis.

“It’s a watershed moment for the towns,” said David Young, vice president of CDM Smith, Inc., the wastewater consultant working with the three towns in developing comprehensive wastewater management plans. The town could save from 14 to 28 percent on the projected costs of implementing the plans by using a single central treatment plant.

There have been three preliminary meetings among officials from the towns prior to last Wednesday's session. Young said his company has been challenged to lower the capital costs associated with addressing wastewater management.

Dennis' interim Town Administrator Elizabeth Sullivan filed an efficiency and regionalization grant with the state in February on behalf of the three towns that would help facilitate the regional initiative and educate the public. Grant awards are expected to be announced in the near future, she said.

It is anticipated it will take 40 years to complete infrastructure, likely in seven or eight phases, to reduce nutrients deteriorating saltwater and freshwater quality on Cape Cod. Young said wastewater treatment is needed to reduce total maximum daily loads of nutrients in the various watersheds to improve water quality.

Communities on the Cape are under a court order to clean up the waters, and Young said the Cape Cod Commission was charged with updating the 208 Plan, required by the federal Clean Water Act. The initial plan was done in 1978.

Most homes on the Cape have been using Title 5 septic systems, which remove bacteria, but do not remove the nutrients that move with groundwater to rivers, embayments and coastal waters, degrading water quality. Excess phosphorus has also has an adverse impact on freshwater bodies.

As the Cape‘s population has grown waterways have become more stressed. Young pointed out the population from 1950 to 1999 grew by 400 percent in Harwich, 600 percent in Dennis and 700 percent in Yarmouth. The Cape has four percent of the state population, yet 20 percent of the Title 5 septic systems in the state are operating here.

The recently updated 208 Plan, completed by the commission and approved by the state last year, focuses more on nutrient removal, Young said. This will require sewers and wastewater treatment.

Yarmouth Selectman Norman Holcomb asked what would happen if voters do not buy into the wastewater treatment program. Young said the state department of environmental protection could require the upgrade of individual septic systems in nitrogen sensitive districts. He said they could require alternative nitrogen removal systems that will cost homeowners more than investing in a municipal system.

The 40-year capital costs associated with the CWMPs, which are still in the works in Dennis and Yarmouth, are about $342 million for Yarmouth, $251 million for Harwich and $207 million for Dennis.

“We want to look at a whole host of options, alternative options in a cost-effective manner,” Young told the group of about 50 town officials and residents gathered at the Dennis Senior Center.

Working in a community partnership and developing a treatment plant for the three towns will present a significant savings, Young said, citing savings in design, construction and operation and maintenance. He projected a 28 percent savings for Dennis, 19 percent for Harwich and 14 percent for Yarmouth.

Dennis' department of public works off Theophilus Smith Road is already designated for the treatment plant. Harwich’s CWMP calls for the construction of a treatment plant at the former landfill site on Queen Anne Road. Harwich is also working with the town of Chatham on an inter-municipal agreement that would see treatment of 300,000 gallons of wastewater per day from Harwich treated at the Chatham wastewater plant.

Young said a pumping station would be installed at the intersection of Routes 28 and 134 in Dennis and dual force mains would then extend to the treatment facility. There were questions about recharge sites. Young cited several locations, including the golf courses in Dennis and Yarmouth and back to the former landfill site in Harwich.

The sewer collection system in each town would be designed, constructed and operated by the individual towns, Young said. But a wastewater district agreement would be used to construct and oversee the management of the shared infrastructure and wastewater plant.

Young said he worked with the towns of Mansfield, Foxboro and Norton in forming the first district approved by the state department of environmental protection. He said a seven-member commission with representatives from each community oversees the operation.

Harwich Board of Selectmen Chairman Michael MacAskill said he has met with two of the three town managers involved in the MFN district and they had no complaints with the operation. MacAskill said the managers are willing to talk with selectmen here about the regional district.

Dennis Board of Selectmen Chairman Paul McCormick said he thought the plan was doable and recommended each board of selectmen appoint a couple of members to serve as a regional committee to continue assessing the community partnership proposal.

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