Residents Question Costs Of East Harwich Sewers

By: William F. Galvin

Wastewater planning

HARWICH — East Harwich property owners last week received a detailed description of the implementation process for wastewater infrastructure, if voters approve $22.5 million the project in the May annual town meeting.

With the design work well underway and an intermunicipal agreement in place with the town of Chatham to use its wastewater treatment facility to process up to 300,000 gallons of sewage per day, town officials wanted to provide an update on the timing and what residents can expect in the way of sewer construction and associated costs to homeowners.

Approximately 60 people attended the session in the community center and heard presentations from David Young and Michael Guidice of CDM Smith, Inc., the town's wastewater consultants, and Town Administrator Christopher Clark. The focus was on phase two of the town's comprehensive wastewater management plan, which addresses the sewering of about 600 homes in East Harwich.

Residents expressed concerns about the cost, the ability of some residents to pay, the need for additional equipment, such as grinder pumps and pressure stations, and whether the the project was premature.

With the funding in place for phase two design, Guidice said surveyors have completed topographical work along 12 miles of roadway in the sewer service area. Preliminary design of the system is ongoing and is expected to be completed in 2019.

The town will seeking funds for the construction phase in May and anticipate going out to bid in early 2019. The construction phase is expected to take two years, from spring 2019 to spring 2021. The first step in the construction phase will be putting in the pumping station and pipelines leading to the Chatham treatment plant. Individual properties would not begin getting connected to the pipeline until 2021. Guidice urged property owners to begin talking with engineers about their connection designs and working with town-approved drain layers or plumbers about the installation. Connection cost will be borne by the property owner.

Guidice went through homeowner design responsibilities, explaining septic systems and leaching fields will be disconnected and filled in, but the pipe extending from the home could be used to connect with new lines leading to the sewer main running along the town road. He defined the various options available in running the line from the home to the street and possible cost-saving steps. The sewer will use a gravity flow system, but depending upon property elevations and the main sewer line, grinder pumps and pressure stations may be necessary to move the waste.

With an affirmative vote in the spring, the town will tap the Clean Water Trust state revolving fund loan program, which has an interest rate of between zero and 2 percent. CDM Smith has already filed a project evaluation form with the state Department of Environmental Protection, and the agency has rated the Harwich project the highest in the state for funding, Guidice said.

Homeowners will see a $150 annual tax increase for a property assessed at $350,000, and the sewer user cost will be $510 yearly based on use of 70,000 gallons of water. It will cost between $500 and $1,500 for a sewer connection plan done by an engineer. The sewer connection by a drain layer can cost between $3,500 and $6,500, depending on length, depth and property conditions, he said.

Funding of those expenses was the major concern of residents. Al Rosenberg wanted to know what power government has if someone decides they are not going to connect. Clark said homeowners will have a year to do so, and if not the board of health and selectmen can compel them through fines; DEP can also issue an administrative order.

Joan Kozar wanted to know if there is any financial assistance available for people on fixed incomes or earning low incomes. Guidice said there is the Barnstable County Community Septic Management Loan Program that will provide funding at a 5 percent interest rate. Mortgage refinancing, a home equity loan or a home equity line of credit are other ways people can fund the costs, he said.

There were also questions about the use of grinder pumps and pressure lines. Barbara Hageman said conditions in her neighborhood of Sou'west Drive made her question if the 65 homes in the neighborhood could connect to a gravity line on Church Street or whether they would need to pump to sewers on Route 137.

Guidice said officials are open to looking at options. Clark said the town might consider connecting several homes to a town-purchased gravity pump or a town pressure station serving a number of properties below the needed elevation for the sewer system.

Karen Hall said it it seemed as if the project has already been funded. Selectman Larry Ballantine assured her funding is still pending a vote in the spring town meeting and a debt exclusion ballot question in the annual election. She asked if the town has a fall back plan if voters do not approve the funding.

Clark said one way or another the town will be compelled to do this. The issue is whether the town does it on its own volition or is compelled to do so by an outside entity.

Hall also asked whether the town can extend the project over a longer period of time to ease the financial impacts on residents who can't afford it. Ballantine said it has been spread out over a 40-year period.

Jim Kiley, a Sou'west Drive resident, questioned the $5,000 to $7,000 cost assessment for connection services to the sewer system provided by the town. He said he has talked with a plumber and been told it can't be done at that price. He asked what the estimated is based on.

Young said the estimates are based on actual costs provided by Robert Duncanson, Chatham's Director of Health and Natural Resources. Young agreed in each case costs will be different based on terrain and the amount of pipe required to reach the sewer system, adding the cost of a grinder pump is not included in that estimate.

“I'm concerned on behalf of the property owners,” Kiley said. “We'll be asked to vote, but don't know the cost to the property owners. Don't you have the cart before the horse?”

“We need to have the answers for you before town meeting,” Ballantine said.

Young said the resident engineer would work with the homeowners to make sure the pipes are in the right location.

Leo Cakounes also expressed concern for costs, stating the town does not have a good track record with going into town meeting without a bid contract, only on costs based just on estimates. He said the figure for this phase, $22.5 million, has been out there for three to four years. He recommended the town go out to bid this year and come back next year with a bid figure.

“It's just too large,” Cakounes said. “We must make sure the number you ask for will cover the project.”

The consultants explained there are plans to split the project, seeking two separate bids as a means of encouraging more bidders and more competition in the bidding process.

Former selectman Peter Hughes also said selectmen have appointed a wastewater support committee to communicate with residents on the particulars of the project to provide a better understanding as it moves forward.