CHATHAM – Discussions and compromises worked out over the past few months will likely avoid a number of potential controversies in next Monday's annual town meeting. That's not to say, however, that there won't be spirited discussion over some of the 40 articles on the warrant.
Specifically, contention appears to be brewing over Article 38, which seeks approval for the selectmen to enter into an inter-municipal agreement (IMA) for treatment of wastewater from East Harwich at the Chatham wastewater treatment facility. Selectmen from both towns hammered out the agreement over a period of months, but in recent weeks questions have been raised about the amount of money Harwich will be paying Chatham for treatment capacity as well as other details of the proposal.
“I don't want the town to lose sight of what we're really trying to do here,” said Chairman of Selectmen Jeffrey Dykens, who supports the measure along with a majority of the board. “We will make some money by selling capacity, but in the long term we're cleaning up the environment with greater alacrity.”
Harwich voters approved funding for the IMA Monday evening, which must also pass a ballot question at the May 16 annual election.
The annual meeting begins at 6 p.m. May 8 at the Monomoy Regional Middle School gymnasium. Voters will be asked to approve a $30 million operating budget, a 3.49 percent increase over current year spending, as well as $8.9 million for the Monomoy Regional School District. The warrant also includes a capital budget of just over $2 million, paid through free cash, and a $2.9 million water department operating budget completely funded through water revenue.
Several measures that held the potential for controversy were diffused in the weeks leading up to town meeting. One involved the establishment of a new waterways user fee revolving fund, which will collect revenue from fish pier permits and a new waterways user fee, anticipated to total about $300,000 annually. The initial article, the one that appears on the warrant, directed the funds to be spent by the town manager and department of natural resources after consultation with the harbormaster and waterways advisory committee. Members of the Aunt Lydia's Cove committee protested, saying they should also be consulted because roughly half of the revenue will be coming from fish pier fees. After some debate, selectmen agreed, and will offer an amendment to the article that adds the Cove committee and South Coastal Harbor management committee as consulting parties for expenditures from the fund.
Another waterways-related measure that morphed due to discussions involves funding for waterfront projects and the fish pier. Initially staff recommended a five-year capital program to address needed repairs and upgrades at the fish pier and other town waterfront facilities. But rather than seek annual appropriations for the work, as originally proposed, officials determined it would provide more flexibility to have a pool of funds available for the projects.
That need was brought home last month after the new break in South Beach raised questions about future access to Chatham Harbor and the fish pier and the possible need to upgrade town-owned property at Stage Harbor to accommodate the commercial fishing fleet sooner than might otherwise have been done.
“It gives the town more flexibility in respect to how soon we can act,” Dykens said. “We don't know what the heck's going to happen. So we need that degree of flexibility.” Article 21 seeks $11,355,000 for fish pier and waterfront projects, subject to a debt exclusion vote at the May 11 annual town meeting.
In a related measure, Article 39 amends the town's waterways bylaw to create a new deep-water mooring area in Stage Harbor would be created to accommodate commercial fishing vessels displaced from Aunt Lydia's Cove.
Election voters will also be asked to approve borrowing $31 million for the next phase in the town's ongoing wastewater management project, which focuses on building sewer mains in the Route 137 area. Town meeting will be asked to endorse the expenditure in Article 18 on the warrant.
That infrastructure will include sewer mains that will allow Harwich to connect to the Chatham system and send up to 300,000 gallons per day of wastewater to the treatment plant off Sam Ryder Road. Article 38 will ask voters to approve the agreement with Harwich allowing that to happen. Over a seven-year period, Harwich will pay $6,765,000 to treat wastewater from East Harwich at the facility.
In the past few weeks Selectman Seth Taylor and several residents have criticized the agreement as not being in the town's best interest, but Dykens rejects that argument, saying that the IMA was the result of long negotiations between subcommittees of the two boards of selectmen. He said the agreement is fair but also reflects continued cooperation between the two communities as well as the need to clean up a shared resource – Pleasant Bay.
Most of the East Harwich watershed drains into the bay, which is shared by Harwich, Chatham and Orleans. Chatham and Harwich worked together on the Muddy Creek bridge, which opened up that waterway – which forms the border between the two towns – to a more robust tidal exchange, reducing the need for sewering hundreds of homes. The IMA is another example of working together to clean up high nitrogen levels in Pleasant Bay, said Dykens.
“We came to a negotiated settlement,” he said. “I'm real comfortable with the agreement, real comfortable with the numbers.”
Voters will also be asked to appropriate $120,000 to continue funding the effort to settle the disputed western boundary of the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. Federal legislation is pending that would set the boundary at low water, removing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's claim to some 3,000 acres of subtidal lands in Nantucket Sound west of the refuge. If that effort fails, both litigation and an administrative solution remain options. The money will continue to fund Washington consultant Jeff Pike, whom Dykens said has been “excellent” in representing the town's interest in the matter.
Article 20 seeks $25,000 for site planning, engineering and permitting for the former Eldredge Garage property at 365 Main St., which the town voted to purchase for $2.5 million in January. The town has yet to execute that purchase; the money will be used to develop a plan for the property, as well as site design and engineering, once a purchase and sales agreement is in place. Public parking has been the most often mentioned use for the property.
A dozen community preservation expenditures are also on tap, including funding requests to repair the Atwood House Museum foundation, build new pickleball courts and a new little league field backstop, and design new bleachers at Veterans Field.
Town Manager Jill Goldsmith's town meeting preview can be viewed on the town's website. Copies of the warrant are also available on the website, and have been mailed to all voter households.