CCT FORUM: CHATHAM CAN SAVE OVER $100 MILLION IN FIGHTING EXCESS NITROGEN
The best news for all Chatham taxpayers is the extraordinary presentation made this past Saturday, September 12th, by CCT’s panel of experts on the alternatives that can help staunch the flow of septic nitrogen into our embayments. These alternatives are real, currently available, vastly less costly than just a centralized sewer system and – what a bonus! – are better for the environment and use less in the way of natural resources. The Cape Cod Chronicle and Cape Codder both provided straightforward coverage of the event, which should be read.
It was a standing-room-only crowd, about 120 to 125, for the workshop "Cleaning the Waters and Saving Taxpayer Money, Too." Every seat was filled. People who came late and couldn’t do without a seat left, which we understand. The audience followed carefully the detailed presentations that were made, which took about two hours. After a coffee break, the question period went on until 12:30. At the very end of the 3½ session half the crowd was still there.
CCT members are as fully committed to the goal of clean water for Chatham as the Friends of Chatham Waterways, which organization encouraged CCT to hold this informational forum.
As the staggering scope and cost of what town officials are proposing sunk in, there was shock and dismay. But, as the presentations moved forward, there was hope and excitement in the air.
Many in attendance had no idea of the size and expense of the sewering plan town officials are proposing since they hadn’t heard much – which is why CCT held the wastewater forum.
It’s no wonder officials have been quiet about it, because the figure of $340,000,000 is so outlandish for a town with just 6500 residences that it’s difficult to comprehend. That’s almost ten percent of the cost of cleaning up Boston Harbor for more than 2 million people.
First thing to understand is this: This hugely expensive sewer system will do the job. The citizen committees that met periodically with town officials and their sewer consultant Stearns & Wheler were correctly satisfied that the traditional centralized sewer system would do the job. What was missing throughout the process, particularly as the cost estimates mounted from $20 million to $60 million and $120 million, was a focused attention on whether there was a less expensive way to address the nitrogen problem.
As recently as a year ago, even Stearns & Wheler admitted that the town could do what is necessary to solve the septic nitrogen problem at much less than two-thirds the cost of what town officials are proposing be charged to the property tax. Right there, that’s over $100 million in savings and alternatives that are available today haven’t even been factored in. It’s clear that somewhere along the line (some eight to ten years in the planning) somebody decided that Chatham would have a centralized sewer system no matter what the cost turned out to be.
Chatham Concerned Taxpayers is pleased to have had as a co-sponsor the national environmental organization Clean Water Action. Some might find it strange that an aggressive environmental group would team up with taxpayers looking to save money on property taxes. But Clean Water Action is looking at wastewater problems practically and holistically. They recognize that if costs skyrocket out of reasonable range, as in Chatham, hard opposition to spending money is likely to develop. Better to work with groups such as ours to find acceptable environmental answers at less cost. Not only that, Clean Water Action believes it is a terrible mistake to collect a city or town’s wastewater and just dump it into the ocean – thus depleting the water table.
Consider, if every town on the Cape built a sewer system such as Chatham town officials are proposing, how much water would be diverted from our aquifers. Yes, many say the Cape’s fresh water aquifers are inexhaustible, but very few things in life don’t run out sometime.
For example, the centralized system in Boston collects water from all over Greater Boston, feeds it into Deer Island treatment facilities and then pushes it down and through a tunnel beneath the seabed 9.5 miles out into Cape Cod Bay. As a consequence, fresh water reservoirs are suffering and stream flows are down because so much water is being sucked from the land and pumped into the Bay.
So the alternatives presented at the forum met the dual test for Clean Water Action as well as CCT – environmentally better and much less expensive. There’s nothing wrong with stretching environmental dollars as far as they will go.
The event was widely advertised and Chatham Selectmen Len Sussman attended and stayed through the major presentations. Audience members did ask where the other town officials were. Mr. Meaney noted that Mr. Duncanson, the principal official responsible under the town manager for the proposal, was in California and could not be present.
CCT’s position is simple: There is so much money at stake it is irresponsible not to look at alternatives that can bring the cost down substantially. Similar demands are being made in Orleans (over 1,000 have petitioned the Board of Selectmen to included alternative systems in their plan, which now, like Chatham, incorporates only a very large treatment plant and sewer pipes running out from that to cover the entire affected area).
In Falmouth, leadership for alternative solutions is being provided by State Representative Matt Patrick, an environmental activist before he entered the legislature. Rep. Patrick joined our panel in explaining how alternatives could work in Falmouth. As CCT fights for the taxpayers of Chatham, we will be working closely with those in Orleans and Falmouth and in other towns who are demanding that the full range of possibilities be examined for a combination solution that will do the job much less expensively and just as well if not better environmentally. Officials for Harwich, Orleans and Dennis were in attendance as were concerned citizens from those towns and Brewster and Barnstable.
Orleans selectmen have agreed to a Saturday forum on wastewater, which is scheduled for October 24th. State officials met this past Monday with Rep. Patrick in Falmouth and agreed to the installation of an alternative septic reduction facility. So there is movement. In our next report, we will recount what state and county officials are saying as they adjust their thinking to the new reality of centralized sewer systems being outmoded, too expensive and environmentally damaging.
Thanks to all who emailed and called afterwards to express their appreciation for the superbly qualified panel and their excellent presentations. As stated earlier, there is hope and excitement.