HARWICH — Educating residents about the costs and benefits of the regional Dennis, Harwich and Yarmouth Clean Waters Partnership will not be an easy task. But members of the subgroup seeking to bring the towns together to process wastewater in one treatment plant began that task last week.
Members of the partnership and their consulting engineering firm, CDM Smith, Inc., conducted a public forum last Thursday evening at the community center providing an update on the status of the special legislation establishing the partnership, the status of the operating agreement, projected costs and advantages of the three-town partnership.
Discussions have been ongoing for three years on better ways to improve water quality, Selectman Larry Ballantine said of the plan to locate a wastewater treatment plant in Dennis. The proposal received town meeting support in each of the communities to file special legislation to form the partnership. The House passed the legislation in August and it now sits in the Senate rules committee. The legislation is expected to be approved this fall.
A subgroup has been working on an operating agreement for the treatment facility with an eye on having the document approved by the boards of selectmen in each community by December and brought to next year's annual town meetings for approval.
Approval of the partnership at the state level it will provide access to funds from a $1 million environmental bond bill administered by Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides for start up engineering costs, said State Representative Tim Whalen, R-Dennis.
DEP Deputy Commissioner Gary Moran emphasized the importance of protecting the Cape’s water bodies and improving water quality. A lawsuit by the Conservation Law Foundation is driving the cleanup, and the state just made a progress report to the federal Environmental Protection Agency on water quality projects that are underway, he said. Promising cleanup efforts are being made across the Cape, Moran said.
David Young, vice president of CDM Smith, Inc., estimated the three towns would generate 6.5 million gallons of wastewater per day at buildout. Young said 55 percent would be generated by Yarmouth, 30 percent by Dennis and 15 percent by Harwich. Each town would be expected to take effluent back to a recharge site in their community.
In Harwich’s case, Young said if the town were to go it alone, the capital cost of a treatment plant, conveyance and effluent recharge would be $68 million. Under the DHY proposal, the town's costs would be $33 million. Operating and maintenance costs would be $2.1 million if the town went it alone, compared to $1.5 million under the regional proposal. Annual costs to the town would be $5.1 million compared with $3 million under the regional plan, for an annual savings of $2.2 million, or 41 percent. The savings for Dennis would be 36 percent and 33 percent for Yarmouth.
“The regional partnership option is quite a bit cheaper and operations and maintenance are a savings as well,” Young told the audience of close to 50 people.
Harwich would be connecting the same number of properties with either option. The costs of conveying wastewater to Dennis would be $12 million more, but Young said the town would save $37 million over the cost of building its own treatment plant and effluent recharge system.
There would need to be some changes to the Harwich comprehensive wastewater management plan, Young said. Main construction along Route 28 to Dennis would have to be moved up in the now eight-phase plan.
With Massachusetts Department of Transportation planning major roadway improvements in Harwich, Dennis and Yarmouth in the next five years, the emphasis was on coordinating sewer work with state road construction. Subgroup member Jeff Colby, DPW director in Yarmouth, said that way the towns would pay for the pipe, but MassDOT would pay for the road work.
Subgroup members said there are ways to recoup costs, including coordination with MassDOT; the Cape Cod and Islands water protection fund; water infrastructure investment fund; a local option community impact fee; and dedicated funds.
Town Administrator Christopher Clark said state revolving funds have a general lending program of 2 percent while the market rate is 3 to 4 percent, providing additional savings. He said if project criteria is met, which included higher points for regionalization, there can be a zero percent borrowing rate, such as Harwich received for its East Harwich sewering project connecting to the Chatham treatment plant. There is also the potential for an added one-half percent principle loan forgiveness, he said.
Young said the partnership’s seven-member governing commission will include three members appointed by Yarmouth selectmen, two by Harwich selectmen and two members from Dennis, with an executive director to oversee day-to-day operations.
“It’s an independent body, but we wanted to be sure there is a connection to the people who will pay for this,” said Selectman Donald Howell, a member of the subgroup.
The commission and selectmen in the three member towns would hold a joint public meeting to act on the partnership’s annual budget, which requires a majority vote. Then the commission must approve the budget by a two-thirds majority. Bills are issued to the towns on a quarterly basis. Increases are not subject to Proposition 2½ limits.
The advantages of regionalizing sewage treatment include cost savings, more efficient operations, restoration and protection of water resources and meeting watershed total maximum daily limits on nitrogen. Other economic benefits include construction of sewers in commercial areas to promote desired economic development, smart growth, and protection of historic districts.
But given the complexity of the project and the costs associated with it, there were a number of issues raised about the need for more detail and more meetings with the public. Harwich resident Noreen Donahue was looking for particulars about changes in phasing and the costs associated with those changes.
Former selectman Linda Cebula questioned the increase in costs, which she said have almost doubled. Young said costs have been updated since 2014 and these are the 2022 figures.
Sharon Pfleger urged the subgroup to hold a comprehensive meeting in Harwich where townspeople can examine the agreement and costs associated with the project before the selectmen meet in December to act on the agreement. Ballantine said he would take that as a directive to hold such a meeting.
“This is the beginning, and why we didn’t want to hold a fall town meeting,” Howell said, adding there will be a lot more discussion.
The timeline, should all go as planned, is two years for design and three years for construction and connection to the plant. The beginning of the operation is projected to be 2025.