With Sewer Systems Expanding, County Helps Homeowners Make The Connection

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Wastewater treatment

 With new sewer systems being installed, or existing systems being expanded in various Lower Cape towns, more and more homeowners will be looking for help connecting their properties to the new sewer lines. FILE PHOTO

In the years and decades ahead, many Lower Cape residents will see new sewer lines being installed in their neighborhoods, part of efforts to meet state-mandated limits on nutrient pollution. And while they can expect to collectively spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build those systems, they’ll also have to spend several thousand dollars each to connect their homes.

To that end, Barnstable County officials are reminding the public about a time-tested program designed to lessen that financial burden. It’s the county’s Community Septic Management Loan Program, and in its 11-year history, it has already loaned some $40 million to help Cape Codders connect to sewers or replace their failed residential septic systems.

The program offers fixed-rate 20-year loans covering all costs related to either hooking up to a sewer system or replacing a failed septic system. The loans carry a 5 percent interest rate, and the average loan size is $11,000.

“With the cost of repairing and replacing failed septic systems on the rise, it is no surprise the program is a success,” program administrator Kendall Ayers said. “Having a failed septic system is a crisis for a homeowner. It goes beyond the financial burden with the potential for negative effects on quality of life and even health,” he said.

The loan program eases the pain of that unexpected financial hit, “but more than that, it enables projects to be done as quickly as possible so people can resume their normal lives,” Ayers said.

Since May 2006, the program has loaned $40 million to Cape Cod property owners, financing more than 3,600 projects. Most loans are processed in 24 hours, Ayers added.

Unlike some government programs, the county’s Community Septic Management Loan Program has a stable funding base. Through the county’s department of health and the environment, the program is funded by the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust, using funds from the federal EPA. Those monies are supplemented by state matching funds and loan repayment revenues from previous borrowers. When loans to the county are repaid, the money is recycled and lent out again.

While the program focuses on failed septic systems – like ones that cause waste to bubble up in the yard or back up into basements – it also funds the cost of sewer hookups, Ayers said.

“When a town installs sewer systems and requires that certain residents hook up to the system, their existing system would be deemed non-compliant or non-conforming, hence failed so they would qualify for a loan,” Ayers said. “We are presently funding sewer hook-up projects in Chatham, Barnstable and Falmouth and would be happy to work with residents in Harwich and Orleans in the future.”

The program covers anything residential including primary homes, rental properties, seasonal properties and condominiums. Funding will remain available for the foreseeable future, Ayers said.

When the program began in 1997, Barnstable County had contracts with all 15 Cape towns for program administration but only the towns had the authority to borrow and assess betterments. As a result, sometimes critical projects were delayed by the need to get individual authorizations from town meetings. This changed in 2006 when the Cape Cod congressional delegation, working with Barnstable County Commissioners, successfully sponsored legislation enabling the County to assess betterments to secure the loans. At that time, the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates gave the County the authority to borrow $30 million from the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust for loan purposes. This enabled the County to take on full responsibility for the program on behalf of Cape towns including the billing and collecting of payments.

“I am very proud to be part of this very successful Barnstable County program serving the residents of Cape Cod for over 11 years now,” Ayers said.

For more information, visit www.BarnstableCountySepticLoan.org.