Delays In East Harwich Sewer Project Impact Development

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Development , Wastewater treatment

Wastewater planning

HARWICH – The decision to put off a request for additional funding to complete phase two of the comprehensive wastewater management plan is creating problems for one local developer.

Eastward Homes Business Trust of Chatham was issued planning board approval for the eight-lot Bascom Hollow subdivision off Route 39, to the east of the commercial district, in May 2018. Among the conditions imposed by the board of health was a requirement that the first four homes that were built be connected to a community sanitation system within the subdivision, and that the entire subdivision be tied to the municipal sewer when it was available.

The system for the four homes was installed along with a sewer line that would connect homes in the subdivision to the municipal sewer when the town completed the phase two sewering project for East Harwich. The company understood at the time that the connection to the sewer would be available sometime in 2020, according to a letter Susan B. Ladue, regulatory specialist for Eastward Homes, wrote to the board of health earlier this month.

However, a municipal sewer running east of the main intersection along Route 39 may not be completed for up to two years, and the developer was before the health board last week seeking relief from the requirement to connect to the system.

There were major overruns in the cost of phase two. The town had hoped to provide sewering to approximately 640 properties for the $24,775,000 voted in the 2018 town meeting for phase two work, but bids for the first two contracts issued for the work will only sewer approximately 400 properties. It is estimated an additional $8.4 million will be needed to fund a third contract to complete the phase two work in East Harwich.

There were initial discussions about pursuing the funding in this year's annual town meeting, but selectmen have made the decision to hold off on seeking the funds in May. Funds could be sought in a special town meeting in the fall to complete phase two; selectmen are expected to call a fall special town meeting for a vote on the Dennis-Harwich-Yarmouth Clean Waters Community Partnership agreement.

Given the delays in the sewer work, Eastward Homes filed for variances with the health board to move ahead with construction of at least three more homes in the subdivision with Title 5 septic systems with the agreement to connect to the municipal sewer system when it is available.

According to the approval issued by the board of health in May 2018, development is restricted to a maximum of four lots until such time as municipal sewer is available. Each lot is restricted to a maximum of four bedrooms. No variances from Title 5 or board of health regulations are allowed for any of the lots, according to the approval.

Three houses have been built in the subdivision and construction of a fourth is underway, said William Marsh of Eastward Homes. However, three more houses have been put under contract, two in the past two weeks. Indicating the potential for a downturn in the economy and citing the custom work his company provides, Marsh said it is important to keep his workers employed.

The subdivision is within the town’s Water Resource Protection District. It is also within the Pleasant Bay watershed.

Health Department Director Meggan Eldredge said board regulations require any subdivisions with more than five lots to install a shared Title 5 septic system. Such a system is in place for the initial four houses.

Eldredge provided the board with three options: requiring all properties to have traditional systems; allowing the four lots as is and requiring the additional four lots to have innovative/alternative technology systems; or requiring all lots to have I/A technology. She recommended option two, and that those lots be required to hook up to the sewer within 45 days of installation.

Attorney William Riley suggested option one would be the most appropriate. Since the sewer system will eventually be installed, he said “I/A systems would be an added expense and money thrown away.”

“I understand the predicament they’re in, but we don’t know if or when a contract will be approved. It could be further down the line and that’s a concern,” board member Sharon Pfleger said. “Contract three may not happen until further out in the comprehensive wastewater management plan phasing.”

“Pleasant Bay Watershed is the most important in the town of Harwich. We recognize that. The concern that the Pleasant Bay Watershed is not going to be sewered doesn’t make sense. These houses will be built over time. The contribution to the groundwater will be very limited,” Riley said. They could hold off on determining the type of septic system to be required until after a fall special town meeting, he added.

The board approved Eldredge's recommendation that traditional Title 5 systems be allowed on the additional four lots, but if there is no decision made to fund the third contract at a fall special town meeting by the end of October, I/A technology will be required.