ORLEANS — The many moving parts of the town's long campaign to remove excess nitrogen from its waters were on display in great detail at the Nov. 30 selectmen's meeting.
The board reviewed the plan of attack through next June 30 with engineering firm AECOM and the town's consultant, Mike Domenica, looking at an updated timeline that included decision points for the board to act.
Case in point: the oyster filtration project at Lonnie's Pond. Domenica said a report from . UMass Dartmouth's School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) on changes in the level of nitrogen there will lead to a decision early next year on buying more oysters for that purpose. If successful, the filtration would reduce the amount of sewering the town needs to do to meet overall nitrogen levels.
AECOM Associate VP/Water Tom Parece said the oysters are thriving, having grown from an inch and a half to three to four inches; the project “show some promise in cleaning up water.”
There was some discussion of what to do if SMAST were tardy in delivering its findings, given the close timing of dependent decisions. “If that report doesn't come out until March, we're dead,” Selectman Mark Mathison said. Looking back over the town's 14-year involvement with the issue, Selectman Jon Fuller said the long slog was due in part to some reports that came out too late. Noting that SMAST has a contract directly with the town, Selectman Alan McClennen said he had made it clear to the principals that “if you can't, we'll find somebody else.”
The town will work with the county on installation of a limited number of nitrogen removal barrier systems on private residential property, which will operate in tandem with existing Title 5 septage systems. The goal is to collect data that will convince regulators that the innovative system can do the job, thus providing another non-sewer option for nitrogen reduction.
Meanwhile, Orleans Water Quality Advisory Panel members are being invited to participate in a technical work group that will look at data analysis and criteria for selection for the type – or types, in a hybrid system – of sewers to be installed downtown. That group's first meeting will be later this month; Domenica said the fresh water ponds working group had just met and shared “lots of good ideas.”
By March or April, AECOM expects to make a recommendation as to whether to seek a company to design and build a downtown system that the town would operate or whether to have the designer and builder enter a long-term operation agreement with Orleans. It will be necessary to have detailed information for bidders, which will be dug up, so to speak, via downtown area testing. The board is on the hook to give the go-ahead for site testing at its Dec. 14 meeting.
“The board isn't approving sites,” Domenica said. “It's being asked to approve testing of sites.”
Testing will extend to a topographical study that will indicate where gravity flow of wastewater will work and where it will need a pump assist, the conditions of soils, an evaluation of cultural resources, and a detailed look at the connection path to all 391 downtown properties. That level of information, Parece stressed, will not lock the selectmen into one choice of a sewer system, but it will be very valuable for contractors considering whether to bid on designing, building, and perhaps operating the system. The data will also guide decisions on building the system in phases.