ORLEANS — At a moment when towns such as Chatham and Harwich are taking a regional approach to cleaning their waters, the Nauset Regional School Committee voted unanimously against allowing Orleans to explore discharging treated wastewater at the middle school recreation fields owned jointly by Brewster, Eastham, Orleans, and Wellfleet.
The town, through its consultant AECOM, had made the request to investigate use of the fields in Orleans as an option should problems emerge with sites such as the location of the now-closed Tri-Town Septage Plant and the Route 6 cloverleaf at Exit 12.
Supt. Tom Conrad led off the discussion at the committee's April 6 meeting by recommending denial of the request. “Receiving water from a septic plant where kids are spending a great deal of time … the reaction from lots of our families would be of great concern,” he said. Conrad asked the board to consider possible future uses of the land by the school system that might be limited by installation of a discharge field.
Member Ed Lewis of Brewster recalled a conversation a decade ago with an Orleans official who he said came to him to talk about putting a wastewater treatment plant near Brewster's Captains Golf Course to serve South Orleans, with the effluent (treated wastewater) being used to fertilize the course. “My comment,” Lewis recalled, “was, 'I don't know what you're smoking, but I want a piece of it.'” He said Orleans “has enough property to do it at another location. They have plenty down by Tri-Town. Where you have school kids, you don't want wastewater.”
Orleans member Chris Galazzi said he was “greatly concerned” about wastewater and would be willing to entertain “a well-thought-out plan” that looks at a regional solution. Nevertheless, an experience he had several years ago convinced him not to mix school fields and discharge sites.
“The soccer team was playing off-Cape, where they had to close a soccer pitch,” he recalled. “They had placed a system under a field and it had raw sewage coming up. It was not a place you'd want any human being on the planet to be near.”
Another Orleans member, Robert Sinclair, joined a third, Deborah Beal, in objecting to an existing nitrogen-removal project installed last year on the middle school grounds. The permeable reactive barrier has shown some success, but Sinclair and Beal said plans to expand the study by adding barriers should not go forward and that a deadline should be set for removing the existing barrier.
Responding to a question, Selectman Mark Mathison, his board's liaison to the committee, assured members that May's town meeting warrant would not include a specific request for exploration of the fields as a discharge site. He said the permeable reactive barrier was another matter altogether, installed to see if some of the flow of nitrogen from the town's landfill could be taken up as it moves through the fields on its way to Town Cove.
The PRB project may be “on the back burner,” Mathison said, given recent data that “the plume [from the landfill] is so large and deep that what we do at the middle school may be irrelevant.”
The committee voted 9-0 to reject the request to examine the middle school as a potential discharge site and also ruled out any expansion of the PRB experiment there.
At a work session, April 12, the board of selectmen got an update from Mathison on the regional committee's meeting. He said its members were “extremely upset” about not being kept informed regarding various ideas for school field uses. He noted that the school board approved the PRB project a year ago, “and they have not heard word one since then.”
Mathison also reported on the previous evening's meeting of the shellfish and waterways improvement advisory committee, which selectmen have charged with organizing a management plan for nitrogen removal by aquaculture. The committee is working with Natural Resource Manager Nate Sears on that task.
The three-year-old oysters in Lonnies Pond, used in last year's nitrogen-reducing study, cannot be placed on the bottom at Kents Point per a decision of the state Division of Marine Fisheries. One plan would return the oysters to Falmouth, where they could be placed in an approved area; in the fall, an appropriate number of equivalent-sized oysters would be sent to Orleans and put out for harvesting. Details are still being worked out.
Selectman Alan McClennen had some good news to share. He said the oysters being brought up from Lonnies that week were showing a mortality rate of 11 percent, much better than the industry standard of 45 percent. He also looked forward to Falmouth sending an equivalent number of oysters to Orleans this fall. “On Nov. 1, they'll all be out there,” he said, “and we can all go after them for Thanksgiving.”