ORLEANS — Necessity was the mother not of invention but decision at last week's selectmen's meeting.
Faced with competing interests – a state remake of Main Street's intersections with Routes 6A and 28 and the need eventually to install sewers and connections in the same locations – the board endorsed a gravity flow system for the sites. Members were facing an end-of-July deadline to get those specs to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation as it decides whether to change its project to include the sewer work.
Everything remains in the planning stage, and it will be up to the voters to decide at a fall town meeting whether the limited sewer work is done.
At the July 12 work session, Tom Parece of AECOM laid out the argument for combining the projects. He said the state imposes a five-year no-dig moratorium when it reconstructs roadways, which could push off the town's construction of sewers in the area to the mid 2020s. He said the town could save about $1.6 million by taking advantage of the work already done by the state and by dodging the cost of digging up the area again.
Selectman Mark Mathison wanted to know whether a decision to let AECOM complete final design plans for the intersections now would lock the town into a particular collection method. That, he said, could limit interest among bidders to build the full system.
Outside the area in question, Parece said, the town could still invite bidders to propose a variety of collection options that would tie in to the gravity system. The town's wastewater consultant, Mike Domenica, added that gravity systems can handle whatever comes in from different systems, and are “easy to operate and maintain” as opposed to systems requiring pumps and electrical backup.
The overall plan for sewers in town now being discussed would be a hybrid of systems, including gravity.
DPW Director Tom Daley strongly endorsed the gravity solution for the intersections.
“The majority of all communities go gravity because it's the most cost-effective way,” he said. “If I'm a property owner, I just want a little four-inch pipe, and I don't have to worry about a pump or paying my electric bill to run that pump.”
Selectman Alan McClennen recalled that “five different engineering firms over the last 30 years have looked at a sewer system in downtown Orleans. Every single one said it should be a gravity system.” He urged his colleagues to authorize presentation of a finalized sewering plan for the intersections to the state and then “bring something to the taxpayers in a special town meeting and let them decide whether it's a good thing to do or not.”
Four selectmen voted in favor, and David Currier abstained. In an email reply, he wrote that Town Counsel Michael Ford had said that "I can't vote on or discuss sewers." Currier, who owns a downtown business that would be served by a sewer system, wrote that he's been in touch with the state Ethics Commission regarding the matter.