In a historic agreement, selectmen in Harwich and Chatham this week voted to adopt an intermunicipal agreement for wastewater treatment.
The 25-year pact was approved by selectmen in Harwich Monday night, and in Chatham on Tuesday. It will take effect on July 1 or shortly thereafter, and allows Harwich to send 300,000 gallons of wastewater per day from East Harwich for treatment at the Chatham water pollution control facility.
Chatham and Harwich have been negotiating the agreement for more than a year with Harwich's cost of buying into the Chatham facility set at $6,765,000 to be paid through four payments. Harwich voters approved the funds in town meeting in May and in a subsequent debt exclusion ballot question in the annual election.
Funds were also approved for design work for sewering and the interconnection with the Chatham system. Construction funding will be sought in next year's town meeting. Chatham town meeting also approved the agreement in its May town meeting.
Before their vote Tuesday, Chatham selectmen heard another detailed presentation about the agreement, with the goal of clarifying for the public some of the complex terms and conditions.
The agreement calls for the treated wastewater from Harwich to be recharged to the groundwater in Chatham. Despite earlier indications that the agreement might call for installation of a sewer main that would carry treated effluent back to Harwich in the event this became necessary, that provision was removed. Chatham Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson said both sides agreed that such a situation might never occur, and if it did, sewer mains that were left unused for many years might not be reliable. Should Chatham ever need to direct Harwich to recharge its own treated wastewater, it might choose to do so in a part of town other than East Harwich, which could render the return pipes useless, he said.
Chatham resident Elaine Gibbs raised a number of concerns about the agreement. She said it is unwise for Chatham to treat wastewater from East Harwich “rather than aggressively going after our existing properties” to reduce wastewater pollution. Duncanson countered that the partnership with Harwich would not delay the cleanup of groundwater in Chatham.
Resident Norman Pacun expressed concern that the agreement failed to require Harwich to purchase special liability insurance to cover damages to Chatham should their wastewater cause damage to the Chatham plant or the surrounding property.
With Selectman Amanda Love dissenting, saying the board needed more time to address these and other questions, the Chatham board voted 4-1 to approve the intermunicipal agreement.
Harwich Town Administrator Christopher Clark said the agreement takes effect when both parties have signed, and after the start of the fiscal year on July 1, Harwich will be ready to make its first payment of $2,265,000 to Chatham. It will likely be 2021 before the first Harwich properties are ready to connect to the system.