Selectmen Need More Discussion Before Wastewater Votes

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Wastewater treatment , Orleans news

Seated off the dais as they attend a meeting of the finance committee Aug. 17, selectmen (left to right) Alan McClennen, Mefford Runyon, Mark Mathison, and Jon Fuller listen to reports on wastewater project options. Ed Maroney Photo

ORLEANS The word “decision”appeared three times on the selectmen's Aug. 17 agenda, but the only decision the four voting members could agree on was to hold another meeting to clear the air on the way forward with water quality remediation projects.

Colleague David Currier remained sidelined due to a potential conflict of interest if he discusses or votes on the design of a wastewater collection system for the downtown area, where he owns two businesses. When the board has had success moving forward on these issues, it's been through unanimous votes. That margin is even more important now, as four votes are required to put an item on the ballot.

Last week's agenda called for decisions on the preliminary design of a collection system and for wastewater and septage treatment, as well as whether the town would pursue a design-build-operate arrangement under which one private entity would complete the system's design, construct it, and run it under contract for a number of decades.

Selectman Alan McClennen tried to get things rolling by moving to proceed based on consultant AECOM's recommendation for a hybrid collection system in the downtown area to be made up of gravity and low-pressure sewers. Selectman Mefford Runyon seconded the motion, and chairman Jon Fuller looked eager to move forward. But Selectman Mark Mathison called a halt.

The board had been told for more than a year, he said, that the town would have the option of putting its project out into the marketplace for a design-build-operate agreement that would build on the 25 percent design completed by AECOM but also thoroughly vet other wastewater collection options. Mathison objected to a “180-degree turn” by wastewater consultant Mike Domenica, who raised a raft of objections to the d-b-o concept for Orleans at the board's previous meeting.

“I don't understand how having a non-competitive atmosphere is doing the right thing for this town,” the selectman said.

Fuller questioned the need for further study of collection systems. “I disagree with you 100 percent,” he told Mathison. “They're the fourth consultant we've had do the same thing over and over again. All came up with the same conclusion. Their recommendation is what Alan moved. I think that's the recommendation we need to come to town meeting, or have another consultant come in and spend another 15 months and tell us the same thing.”

Mathison said he wasn't “suggesting that we continue to study or have consultants come in...I want to see this thing put out there. It seems we're now defaulting to AECOM doing everything.”

Selectman Mefford Runyon said he thought a more traditional design-bid-build project would provide “all the competition we'd like from bidders.”

That's when Mathison said that “the four of us need to have a public meeting, a work session, with no public comment, without any of our consultants or anybody else here. The four of us need to have discussions and clear the air about so many of these things buzzing around us...It's one more time something has been dumped in our laps.”

With fall town meeting two months away, Mathison said, “We're being rushed into this...If we wait six months, so be it. If you rush it through and it's not the right information, they're going to vote against it again. I don't want that to happen. I want to do it, and I want to do it right so we can go 4-0-0 to town meeting...I've been in favor of sewering the downtown so we can have young people living here.”

After Domenica offered an apology for the timing of his unfavorable remarks on a d-b-o for Orleans, McClennen said, “I agree with Mark's proposal. The four of us have to sit down around a smaller table and say what we really want to do, and solve a problem that's been kicking around Orleans since 1975.”