CHATHAM – A significant amount of the cost of the town's sewer construction costs will be reimbursed through the Cape Cod and Islands Water Protect Fund.
The first round of subsidies and grants awarded by the fund, established in 2018 as part of the expansion of the lodging and short-term rental tax, were announced last week. Twenty-five percent of the nearly $35 million Chatham has borrowed over the past decade for wastewater projects will be reimbursed, as will a quarter of the cost of three current projects.
Officials were also notified last week that the town will qualify for low-interest loans from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program for two projects.
Only one of the revolving fund loans qualifies for zero percent interest, said Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson, because it involves wastewater. Upgrading the Queen Anne Road sewage pumping station, located near the Chatham Village Market-CVS plaza, is estimated to cost $2,464,000, and will go before voters for approval at the June 12 annual town meeting.
The pumping station dates from the town's original sewer system installed in 1969. With the expansion of the system, the pump station will have to handle a larger volume, but due to its age will need to be upgraded anyway, Duncanson said. If voters approve, construction would begin late next spring or early next summer, he said.
Officials anticipate that a $6,161,000 stormwater improvement plan will qualify for financing at 2 percent interest, Duncanson said. There are three major components to the work, including the second phase of upgrading stormwater drainage along Crowell Road; upgrading stormwater drainage on Main Street at the town offices, which drains into Oyster Pond; and improvements to stormwater drainage at Shore Road near the fish pier. Town meeting voters will also be asked to approve borrowing for the project.
Duncanson is the town's representative on the board of the Cape Cod and Islands Water Protection Fund, which includes members from 15 Cape towns. The intent of the 2.75 excise tax on short-term rentals was to help towns on the Cape and Islands implement the Barnstable County water quality management 208 plan to reduce nutrient pollution in coastal waters through wastewater remediation, including sewers and innovative treatment methods. Solving the region's wastewater problem could cost as much as $4 billion, according to State Senator Julian Cyr, D-Truro.
“I was proud to help author the law establishing the Cape and Islands Water Protection Fund, and I'm so heartened to see the first grants awarded,” he said in a press release. “When I'm asked how I maintain a sense of optimism about the political process and community involvement, I will point to the Cape and Islands Water Protect Fund.”
Chatham will receive $8,654,945 to help pay off the $34,619,778 it has borrowed for wastewater project; the payments will be made over 10 years and will go right toward reducing the wastewater debt, Duncanson said.
“This is a way to give the towns that have been doing something about wastewater some financial support,” he said.
Commitments were made for 25 percent reimbursement on two projects on the state's 2018 and 2019 Clean Water Revolving Fund list. The Chatham/Harwich regional project, connecting East Harwich to Chatham's wastewater treatment plant, will receive a subsidy of $2,043,715, a quarter of its $8,174,858 cost. The $1,324,983 sewer extension approved in 2019 will receive a $331,246 reimbursement. Those subsidies will be paid out over four years, Duncanson said.
The Queen Anne Road pump station upgrade also qualified for a $616,000 reimbursement, he said.
Harwich also received a commitment for $5,553,617 toward phase two of its $22,214,467 sewer collection system project.
The protection fund board voted a total of $71,307,259 in subsidies to qualified and eligible water quality projects, working with the Cape Cod Commission and the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust.
“These kind of numbers do make a difference for towns,” Duncanson said.
“It's so terrific to see this initial distribution from the Water Protect Fund,” said State Representative Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown. “It's not often as a legislator that one sees positive results as quickly as was done here. All Cape Codders and the Cape Cod environment will be the true beneficiaries of this.”
Cape officials hope to get more support for wastewater infrastructure through the President Joe Biden's American Jobs Plan now before Congress. In a letter to Representative William Keating and Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, a coalition of four Cape organization requested that the legislation include $1 billion for wastewater projects, saying investing in wastewater infrastructure is the most important factor in protecting the environment, preserving the economy and opening the potential for housing in village centers served by that infrastructure.
“To protect our environment, to maintain the region’s economic value and to continue to grow housing on this finite peninsula, we need to build wastewater infrastructure,” the letter reads. “It is crucial that we ensure these assets are not crippled by a crisis that can be addressed and, through cooperative management, repaired.”
The letter was signed by the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, Cape Cod and Islands Association of Realtors and Housing Assistance Corporation.