ORLEANS — Moving ahead on collecting and treating wastewater required buy-in from a wide variety of town committees and other groups of citizens. Now some are feeling the need for a professional coordinator devoted to monitoring progress and keeping everyone on track as initiatives expand to encompass areas outside downtown, including ponds, and innovative treatment methods.
“There are a lot of policy decisions that need to be brought forward to you,” board of water and sewer commissioners chair Dick Hartmann told the select board Feb. 10. “We see ourselves as project guys, not policy guys…. We’re not in sync as a town. I think we need somebody to tie all that together, to help put it in front of you so you guys can make the decisions. It’s getting more complex.”
Water and sewer board Vice Chair Alan McClennen noted that the town no longer has a dedicated wastewater advisor like Mike Domenica, “who was into everything. Right now, we’re relying on some great staff people to do stuff, but it’s not their principal responsibility.” He pointed to just one area of overlapping clean water initiatives at various stages: oysters removing nitrogen in Lonnie’s Pond, nitrogen-altering permeable reactive barriers being considered between Crystal and Pilgrim lakes, and calls to sewer some properties near the lakes to reduce accumulation of phosphorous.
“We’re talking about different entities and nobody’s in charge,” McClennen said. He contrasted that with watching how the Town of Chatham participates in Pleasant Bay Alliance meetings. “There’s one person in charge of all aspects of wastewater in Chatham,” he said. “When issues come up, Dr. Bob Duncanson can tell you where the Town of Chatham is. We don’t have that position right now, and we really need to think about it.”
Select board member Mark Mathison said he remembered previous discussions “that we needed at some point to shift over to having somebody in town in charge of all these things. (Select board member) Andrea (Reed) has spoken often about what happens with many of the committees and boards in town that work in a silo. It’s so difficult to coordinate their efforts. This is a prime example of what goes on. We talked about getting somebody in charge of the biggest money project in the Town of Orleans… We really haven’t made a move in that direction. We have all these tangential groups looking to put their expertise somewhere that can result in action and progress for the town. Until we get that wastewater czar in place, we’re just spinning our wheels.”
Select board Chair Kevin Galligan promised further discussion in the weeks ahead, and near the end of the meeting, Town Administrator John Kelly offered a potential solution. During discussion of the town’s new enterprise funds – which will show the full costs of operating programs such as the transfer station and wastewater – he said, “If we’re looking for a Mike Domenica-like individual starting part-time to coordinate these alternative (treatment) methods, we could put that into the enterprise fund starting in July. Given everything that Mike Domenica did for us and the knowledge base, that’s the kind of individual we would need to bring in. The funding is there; it wouldn’t have to go on the tax rate.”
Another policy decision facing the select board is assignment of $7.5 million of debt for the initial section of the downtown collection system, which was put in place before final paving for the state’s Main Street intersection projects at routes 6A and 28. Hartmann was looking for guidance from the select board as to whether that amount should be added to the betterments that individual property owners will pay, either in a lump sum or over time, or put on the tax rate.
“I think the decision was made a few years ago,” Mathison said. “The deal we made with the town was that betterments would pay for the collection system and the pumps, and the general tax rate for the treatment plant and disposal site… In terms of economic development, we pitched the downtown sewer system as a way to revitalize downtown. Restaurants could flourish (and) not need to pump septic systems three times a week in the summer. To turn around a couple years later and say we shouldn’t include (those costs) on betterments because they might be a detriment to improvements of our economic development and growth downtown is 180 degrees from what we’ve been preaching for years and years about why we needed sewering in the downtown.”
Reed suggested taking a “long view (to) create a policy that offers relief (and to) look at other income streams and keeping our word to the taxpayers. I’m not sure at this time that we’ve done our complete homework on policy development.”
“It’s not a policy decision at this point,” Kelly said later in the meeting. “The betterment will be spelled out in the bylaw. The draft says the town shall assess 100 percent of the cost of the wastewater collection system and pumping station upon those properties that benefit from those projects. The way this is set up, you need to include those costs unless you are going to modify the language of the bylaw.”
“We knew this day was coming,” Galligan said. “It’s here. We know the assumption written in the bylaw is what the board of water and sewer commissioners should assume” in preparing their analysis of betterment costs. “We definitely need to have more discussion.”