Letters To The Editor: Feb. 8, 2024
Inasmuch as there seems to be confusion or lack of clear understanding as to the three now existing sewer-septic systems in town, we have asked Ed Norton, the eminent sewer maven, to explain the operation of each of them as follows:
The traditional septic system collects wastewater from the home via a four-inch drain pipe into the septic tank and transfers the liquid to leaching pits where bacteria break down the effluent to be returned to the property’s soil. There is no maintenance, except for pumping out the tank every seven or so years. Otherwise, this sewerage set-up is cost free.
In the gravity system, the effluent is directed through gravity and toilet flushing via a four-inch drain pipe into the main sewer line in the street and from there to the sewerage treatment plant. It is maintenance free, except for a monthly sewer charge which is, unfairly, based on the amount of water purchased from the town.
In the much more complicated low-pressure system the effluent flows via a four-inch drain pipe to an eight-foot-tall monster of a grinder pump which works like a garbage disposal. It is buried in the ground and pumps the slurry via a one-inch pipe into the public sewer system. The pump requires a dedicated 240V electric service line from the circuit breaker panel in the basement, which for houses on slab is problematic, to be wired into the control panel of the pump. In case of a power outage, this sewer arrangement does not work and renders any toilet in the house unusable unless a generator is available to temporarily correct the situation. Plainly, this system is not maintenance free since moving parts are involved. It has to be carefully monitored as to what “goes down the drain,” and in addition to the extra electric bill there is the sewer charge.
Chatham has saved millions of dollars by installing the two-thirds less expensive low-pressure versus the gravity system and consequently created a two-tier sewer user group. This inequity can only be corrected by having the town install both systems free of charge as many communities have done. However, the engineering, the possible upgrading of the electrical service to 200 Amps and the maintenance by a town-employed E/one pump expert is to be handled and paid for by the property owner.
Until a practical and logical solution has been found, let us not be influenced by the apocalyptic spiel that this problem has to be solved by tomorrow.
Bemoans State Of Nation
I hope Ms. Winters feels better after unloading her "Trump Derangement Syndrome" along with demeaning the Republican Party in your paper last week. With our country potentially being on the verge of a civil war and possibly another world war, it's interesting she chose to vilify Republicans and Trump. Maybe look within your own party to see how low we have fallen when the president of the United States of America can't even string together a coherent sentence.
Sorry state of affairs, indeed.
Include Sewers In Tax Credits
It is encouraging to read that some Cape municipalities are working on ways to help residents defray the costs of expensive grinder pumps when connecting to a sewer system. Now, Massachusetts has an opportunity to support this effort by including all related sewer hookup costs, not just grinder pumps, in the Title 5 septic tax credit package it passed last fall.
That legislation wisely tripled the tax credit to lessen the cost of replacing or upgrading failed septic systems. Previously, the septic tax credit was capped at a $6,000 maximum with an annual limit of $1,500. The new tax credit increased the cap to $18,000 with an annual limit of $4,000. That’s a nice win for people with septic systems. However, it did not include the costs associated with connecting to a sewer system. This is a missed opportunity that should be corrected.
From an environmental perspective, sewers are certainly superior to septic systems. Folks with sewers will be making a more enduring contribution to a cleaner single-source aquifer than their counterparts with new or upgraded Title 5 septic systems. Given that, it seems only fair that sewer hookup costs should be subject to the same tax credit incentives.
There is no doubt that a new or upgraded septic system is a major investment. But so is connecting to a sewer system. In addition to grinder pumps for those low-lying homes that can’t use gravity systems, the expenses are considerable. The costs of hiring engineers and contractors to do the work will rival or outstrip new/upgraded septic system costs.
For these reasons, the Healy Administration should take advantage of this opportunity to include sewer hookup costs in the tripled septic tax credit. By working with local elected officials, the state can demonstrate what can be accomplished when common sense meets political will. Everyone emerges a winner, especially the environment.
Lack Of Registration System An Issue
The town of Brewster currently plans to spend tens of millions of dollars to revamp the Sea Camps property and put in a community center, and wants to spend several million to renovate Drummer Boy Park, yet when the idea of a registration system for short-term rentals was brought up — one that would be paid for with fees collected through registrations, eventually being self-sustaining — the rebuttal from the town government was that the price of under $300,000 per year was too high.
There is an acute housing crisis on the Cape, and Brewster is one of only three towns (the others being Wellfleet and Sandwich) with no rental registration system in place. Registering rentals is a good first step toward being able to collect data about how housing is being used (and how many people are operating multiple short-term rentals), which can then inform decisions on housing policy.
With the state of housing being so dire, it is absurd that the town won’t invest in a registration system for a fraction of what they seem ready to spend, rather blithely, on a community center. While a community center would be nice, who is it for if you aren’t willing to address housing and preserve the community?
Pitch In, Not Out
Yes, this is that time of year when unsightly litter lining our roads seems even uglier with little foliage to hide it. Each resident, business and organization could help. It’s simple and free! Here’s how:
Don’t litter in the first place. Teach your kids and students good citizenship. Don’t expect someone else to pick up after you. If your neighbors are seasonal, be a good neighbor and pick up along the roadside in front of their property as well as your own. If you own a business, let you customers know you run an orderly operation both inside and out. If you are heading into a store and see litter in the parking lot, don’t ignore it. Pick it up. There will be a trash can nearby. It’s good exercise and may even give a little satisfaction. If someone sees you, it might be contagious. You might start something. Someone may even thank you. If you are having work done on your property, insist any litter be removed by quitting time. Please cover containers and trash in truck beds. And lastly, when you see volunteers and walkers picking up along the roadside, give them a break and slow down. Show respect for a job we should all be doing.
Harwich is a lot prettier town without litter. People will notice.
A Sensible Approach To Housing
I recently read through the Chapter 40B legislation searching for the exact wording that requires townships to provide 10 percent of its housing as affordable housing. I found that what is mandated is zoning changes to help communities make steady progress toward meeting these goals. A slow, steady, decision-making process to come up with a flexible plan is allowed. No immediate or hasty decisions are required by any municipality. The state offers financial incentives for townships to comply, but there is no financial penalty for slowing down the planning and decision making. Communities are constantly evolving and morphing.
It is my belief that the residents of Brewster are being pressured into making a hasty decision with regard to the Bay property and Long Pond property. Chapter 40B does not require affordable housing to be built on town property. It does require the town to create a zoning district to accommodate affordable housing. The residents of Brewster should first be asked to vote on what locations within the town's borders they would like to have the zoning changed to accommodate high-density housing.
I’m quite certain that Brewster residents did not purchase the Bay property and Long Pond property with the intent of developing them into housing complexes. To the contrary, I believe we purchased them to prevent them from being developed into housing complexes.
Do Housing Study First
The Chatham Affordable Housing Trust just heard a presentation on the start of the housing production plan study which will define future housing needs for Chatham by August. The question is, how can they proceed with their Main Street and Meetinghouse Road housing projects before that study is completed?
Tiburon, Calif. and Chatham
Concerned About Health Group Leadership
As a resident of Orleans, I am writing to express my apprehension regarding the recent leadership transitions under the new CEO at Outer Cape Health Services. In light of numerous changes, I believe it is imperative to enhance transparency within the community.
During my periodic review of the organization's website, I observed multiple open positions and notable departures at the director and C-suite levels. This includes the absence of the chief nursing officer, the posted position for the director of nursing, as well as vacancies in the roles of director of clinical support, director of behavioral services, director of the revenue cycle, and now a manager of recovery services. The frequency of these changes raises concerns about the stability of the organization and the reasons behind such departures.
Furthermore, recent developments, such as the CFO assuming a dual CFO/COO role as mentioned in a September press release and now the posting of a COO position, raises eyebrows. Furthermore, the recruitment for three key HR roles raise questions about the strategic direction of the organization. The presence of three practice managers for each site, in contrast to the previous site director structure, adds to the complexity. Reports from friends indicate departures among nurse managers, prompting additional concern.
As someone who holds OCHS in high regard as a pillar in our community, I sincerely hope for a positive trajectory. However, the current state of affairs has left me deeply concerned. I believe that greater transparency is essential, particularly considering that OCHS is the primary healthcare provider for a significant portion of Outer Cape.
Movie Sparks School Memories
The announcement that the Chatham Orpheum Theater is again showing a fine movie called “The Holdovers” awakens slumbering memories for anyone who has been a boarder at a New England prep school. I had that good fortune, attending Lenox School in Lenox from 1957 to 1961. It was not until sometime later that I learned of Chatham connections to that school in far off western Massachusetts. My own first connection with Chatham came when my parents retired here from Westborough in 1969.
Much to my surprise, I discovered that the science teacher at Lenox during my first year, Spencer Kennard, had a connection with Chatham. Then I found out that the actor Luis Van Rooten had a home in Chatham. His son, Cortland, was one of my classmates at Lenox and is still part of our Class of 1961 email network. Finally, I recall my mother telling me that another Lenox teacher, the Rev. David Ellms, made occasional appearances at St. Christopher’s.
It is very gratifying to realize that memories can still connect the seashore of Cape Cod with the hills of the Berkshires.
Charter Petition Delayed To 2025
Over the past couple of months, a stalwart group of mostly 70- and 80-year-olds have been braving the cold and working hard to collect the over 1,700 signatures needed to bring a ballot question to Harwich voters to ask whether the town should establish a new charter commission. Simply stated, the charter is essentially the constitution and governing document for the town which generally enables us as a community to do things “our way” within certain limits.
Our original town charter now dates back 37 years to 1987 when, under Massachusetts General Law, the town created its first home rule charter. Harwich was a much smaller place then in terms of population, which numbered only about 6,500 people, and an overall annual budget which stood at roughly $12 million a year. Today Harwich is home to about 13,600 residents and currently has an overall annual budget north of $73 million dollars.
Over these many years and countless charter “revisions” one thing has become abundantly clear, and that is the need to do a top-to-bottom review of our governing documents with an eye to clearer language and, at the least, a way to ensure that our leadership complies not only with the spirit but also the letter of the law. And while we can continue to piecemeal many aspects of the charter through town meeting and ballots, there are some revisions that according to Massachusetts General Law only a full on nine-member elected charter commission can propose.
Massachusetts General Law also requires that to even bring the question to an annual town election ballot, the submission of a petition containing a minimum of 1,716 signatures (15 percent of Harwich registered voters as of the last state election) is required and must be submitted to the town clerk for certification no later than Feb. 9 to meet the deadline for inclusion on the 2024 ballot. We are very close to completing the petition and no doubt could have it done in time for this year’s submission. However, as we have been out in the community talking to folks, we have realized that before this goes to a vote, we need to embark on a serious voter information campaign. Many have no idea that we even have a charter, much less the enormous importance of the place it holds within our local governance.
With that in mind, we will continue into the spring to collect as many signatures as possible with an eye to the 2025 town election. And while that work goes forward, we will be looking towards the fall to organize local gatherings and informational sessions, as well as utilizing media and social media venues (such as our Harwich Old Timers Facebook page), to inform the public and answer questions. We are not going away, so stay tuned. Much more to come.
Time On Their Side?
MAGA Republican conspiracy theorists falsely accusing pop superstar Taylor Swift of being a Democratic operative ahead of the 2024 presidential election is a textbook example of brainlessness. Especially since Ms. Swift reportedly has approximately 526 million followers on social media. Taylor Swift was named Time magazine's 2023 "Person of the Year." In the future, I expect Donald Trump will be doing time.
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