With Latest Approval, Chatham Continues Ambitious Wastewater Program

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Politics , Elections , Wastewater treatment

Sewer construction in Chatham.  FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM – Voters in the annual election last Thursday approved borrowing $7.1 million for the next phase in the town's comprehensive wastewater management plan.
The town is nine years into the 20-year first phase of the wastewater plan. Work previously completed or authorized, including last week’s approval, amounts to sewering about 20 to 25 percent of the town, according to Natural Resource Director Robert Duncanson.
The sewer financing ballot question passed 303-88. Town meeting approved the measure on a voice vote last week.
Also in last week's annual election, incumbent Selectmen Peter Cocolis and Jeffrey Dykens ran unopposed and will serve three more years on the board. Incumbent School Committee member Joseph Auciello and housing authority member Alan Mowry also ran unopposed.
Auciello and Mowry received the most total votes, with 335 each. Cocolis received 334, with Dykens earning 317. There were 118 blanks and 29 write-ins for selectman.
A total of 399 voters went to the polls Thursday, 7 percent of the 5,636 registered, according to the town clerk's office.
Town meeting voters rejected $6.6 million for a new senior center, and a debt exclusion ballot question seeking to exempt that funding from Proposition 2½ was also defeated, 188-158. A third debt exclusion ballot question related to funding for landscaping and other enhancements to the West Chatham Roadway Project was approved 250-158, but the town meeting article related to the measure was not moved, making the ballot question moot.
The sewer funding, which covers phase 1E in the town's wastewater management plan, involves work in three areas: George Ryder Road and several adjacent roads; a section of Stony Hill Road and Crowell Road; and the lower section of Stage Harbor Road and Bridge Street west of the Mitchell River Bridge. Those areas were chosen based on several factors, including the environmental sensitivity of surrounding water bodies, proximity to existing infrastructure, cost and coordination with other town projects (road projects, water main work). Several projects, ranging from stormwater upgrades to an affordable housing development, are planned for some of those areas. “We try to coordinate,” Duncanson said. “That way when the roads are done, they're done.”
The project is expected to go out to bid in the summer or fall with construction following.
Phases 1A, 1B, 1C-1 and 1C-2 are completed, and 1C-3 and 4 have been bid and the contract awarded. A pre-construction meeting was held with the contractor last week, and Duncanson said he anticipates receiving a work schedule sometime this week. Phase 1C-3 and 4 involves some 20 roads, all within the Oyster Pond watershed north and south of Route 28, and with a seasonal deadline of mid June, it's not likely the contractor will begin work until the fall.
Phase 1D-1, which involves coordination with Harwich, will be bid later this spring or summer and may also begin next fall. It involves work on the upper portion of Route 137 and Old Queen Anne Road; eventually that section will be tied in with East Harwich sewers, but the projects can be done independently and the connection made later, Duncanson said. “We're coordinating with [Harwich],” he said, in the expectation that Phase 1D-1 and the East Harwich work will be completely around the same time. Those areas should be ready for sewer connections in 2021.
Phase 1D-2 involves a more extensive area on the south section of Route 137, including Commerce Park, and will be bid in the winter of 2020 and constructed over two years. Town meeting in 2017 approved $31 million for phase 1D-1 and 2.
It's possible that next fall, phases 1C3 and 4, 1D-1 and 1E could all be underway at the same time, Duncanson said.
Originally projected to sewer the entire town over a 50-year period, the comprehensive wastewater management plan aims to reduce nitrogen pollution in the town's waterways and estuaries by replacing on-site septic systems with municipal sewers. High levels of nitrogen degrade coastal water quality and can lead to excess algae growth and reductions in marine animal populations. Once phase 1 is completed in about 11 years, the project will be reassessed to determine how much of the remaining town must be sewered to meet nitrogen reduction goals.
Phase 1E is listed on the state revolving fund final intended use plan for 2019, which guarantees low-interest loan funding, and has been submitted for zero percent interest loans, according to officials. Most of the finance for the sewer project to date has qualified for or received state low or zero interest loans.