Wastewater Cost Reductions: 2009 Archives
One who read the Cape Cod Times article on December 28th about oppostion rising to the huge centralized sewer systems being proposed for several towns on Cape Cod, including Chatham, emails his comments to Chatham Concerned Taxpayers. He aptly describes how town officials typically try to sneak these big projects past taxpayers with low ball numbers or not using any numbers at all for property taxpayers. Essentially, the writer says these projects are just unaffordable.
This is what he had to say:
To whom it may concern:
I read with interest now that the good taxpayers of Chatham have finally arose to the fact of the astronomical cost to each and every taxpayer.
Let me first say, that three years ago the town was proposing this sewer system at the same $300 million price tag. I wrote several responses to newspapers with the true cost estimates and why sewers were totally cost prohibitive.
I worked with a friend who worked for Ernst & Young as a municipal capital investment expert in long range municipal public works projects in cost analysis, budgeting and funding.
He explained to me three years ago why NO MUNICIPAL AGENCY could fund such a project such as this.
He explained that municipalities will give the taxpayer a totally untrue low ball figure that can't be sustained in the past or present future due to the year to year increase in cost of materials, change order cost, labor increases, police road work costs, new paving costs and on, and on.
He had worked on many of these projects for municipalities while working with one of the largest and respected Accounting Firms in the country as an actuary and accountant. He explained to me that the increase from which the town will try and sell to its taxpayers, which is basically the start up cost if the project is to start today and finish tomorrow.
He pointed out that the largest public works project in the Commonwealth of MA is the CENTRAL ARTERY TUNNEL PROJECT, better known as the 'BIG DIG'.
The BIG DIG was estimated that it would cost taxpayers $2.3 Billion started in 1985 and would take 20 years to complete. Well, here we are 25 years later and the costs of increased to over $22 Billion OR and INCREASE OF 1,000 % in true cost.
So with that in mind, consider the potential cost of a sewer system in Chatham most likely easily NOT costing $300 million but closer to $3 BILLION . You now can do the fifth grade math that the town fathers were not capable of expressing to the taxpayers in SELLING them some ridiculous cost estimates. Remember your talking about 6,300 residential property's paying in reality $3 BILLION DOLLARS over 20 years.
Take that figure I read in a recent article that indicated it would cost $44 thousand per property and MULTIPLY by the INCREASE IN REAL COST OF 1,000% higher and your group can truly get a grasp of this most outrageous project which truly is beyond the taxpayers ability to fund.
My friend at Ernst & Young has said this truly presents a true idea of costs. One thing the news article's hasn't presented is the additional costs of a Sewer Disposal Plant, the amount of new town employees with salary and benefits, new town vehicles to operate the plant and system, and anticipated repair and replacement of such a plant and vehicles to operate.
I hope this has been some value to your group, as you can see this would drive everyone out of town, reduce property values to the point the town cease to exist after thousands stop paying their tax bills to support such a TOTALLY OUTRAGEOUS PROPOSAL.
Your group should also involve itself with looking at other major municipal public works projects and their start and finish costs and you'll be so enlightened to how this town is trying to push a project that is totally unsustainable through taxation.
Now the writer is somewhat off here and there. The "$300 million" does include the sewer plant.
But his main point is correct: The record of staggering escalation in the costs of large municipal projects is well-known. The Big Dig is indeed an excellent example, though the original $2-$3 billion estimate has after 18 years of construction "only" risen, we believe, to $16 billion or so, not $22 billion. Still, that's up five times over the original estimate.
CCT's estimates were done very modestly, adding no cost escalation, just normal inflation. Nonetheless, the total for the $240 million project comes out to be close to half a billion dollars, almost certainly more if cost escalation is taken into account.
Whether it's twice the stated cost, five times or ten times, there's more than sufficient reason to search out the most cost effective ways to attack the nitrogen problem.
Cape Cod Times gets part of the story right: Taxpayers don't want to waste money on wastewater projects that are much more expensive than they need to be.
This is especially true of the largest municipal projects ever, the multi-billion dollar efforts to end wastewater pollution of the Cape's bays and rivers in which all three front-running towns have run up against last-minute opposition.
The opposition to big city centralized sewer solutions is most intense in Mashpee and Falmouth, both facing centralized sewer estimates of more than $500 million, as well as in Chatham and Orleans. Mashpee is currently evaluating a low cost sewer alternative that could save taxpayers as much as $300 million. Falmouth taxpayers are also demanding an open review of sewer alternatives and the selectmen have agreed to hire a public facilitator to run the process. Orleans has put off for a year filing its draft comprehensive wastewater management plan with the state while it considers whether the state requirements for cleaning the water are flawed and how much could be saved by utilizing low cost decentralizied sewers.
Only in Chatham are taxpayer concerns and questions being ignored.
Taxpayers are demanding they be fully informed about costs and how much money can be saved by use of low cost sewer systems such as the decentralized sewers preferred by the federal EPA and national environmental organizations such as Clean Water Action and the local environmental activist the Conservation Law Foundation.
Despite the testiness and annoyance evidenced by town officials in their remarks to the Cape Cod Times in the article, it's never too late to do the right thing by the taxpayers. After all, they're the ones paying the bill.
Late opposition hampers Chatham sewers By Doug Fraser in the Cape Cod Times December 28, 2009
Chatham's $300 million plan to construct a sewer system for most of the town sailed through hearings and board votes with little opposition. That culminated in a unanimous vote at May's town meeting to borrow almost $60 million for the first phase of construction.
So, it came as a surprise to town officials when Fran Meaney and Phil Dupont co-founded the Chatham Concerned Taxpayers Association last February to advocate wastewater alternatives they believe might cost a lot less. Meaney has been a year-round resident for only a couple of years and admits he hadn't paid much attention to the town sewer project. But when it comes to tax dollars, he doesn't think it's ever too late to speak up.
"People say you can't do anything, the train has left the station, and I said, hey, there's hundreds of millions of dollars involved and there may be a way of saving half," said Meaney.
It has happened over and over, in town after town, as late-to-the-party critics come forward in opposition to a project in its final stages. Whether it's a road project, a zoning change or municipal wind turbines, the public process comes to a halt.
This is especially true of the largest municipal projects ever, the multi-billion dollar efforts to end wastewater pollution of the Cape's bays and rivers in which all three front-running towns have run up against last-minute opposition.
"You can have hearings and meetings, and when the stakes go in the ground, that's when people realize it is going to happen," said Yarmouth Town Administrator Robert Lawton. At the very least it costs towns money to hold extra hearings and town meetings. Blown grant deadlines or construction delays can mean lost opportunities and higher building expenses.
So, when can town officials tell citizens they missed their window of opportunity and that they have to move on?
Legally, it's pretty cut-and-dry: as long as towns fulfill their legal requirements on notifications, public hearings and votes, they can go forward, said James Lampke, the executive director of the City Solicitors and Town Counsel Association of Massachusetts.
In most cases, the law requires some form of notification for either a public hearing, or a vote. Towns sometimes use direct mailings to abutters or affected parties, but in other cases citizens must watch for postings in legal ads or the town Web site.
Missing a critical meeting or not learning about a project until the last minute is not enough for a citizen to legally extend a project's process.
"People don't realize that they have a responsibility to be informed as to what is going on," said Lampke. "It's not that the community doesn't want them to know what is going on, but a town can only do so much in letting people know."
But with big projects like wind turbines and wastewater, the ante is high. The impact on taxes for Chatham's wastewater project, for instance, stretches out over 40 years.
"When I talked to people, nobody knew the (fiscal) impact and nobody knew there might be a cheaper way to do it," Meaney said.
"This is happening for two reasons: the economy has tanked and everybody is freaked out about the bill," said Augusta McKusick, who spent the past decade as chairman of the Orleans wastewater committee. McKusick thought residents supported the need for constructing sewers in large parts of town.
So, she was surprised when opposition to the town's wastewater treatment plan finally surfaced two years ago, just ahead of a critical town meeting vote. McKusick was angry, she said, because some people had chosen not to participate in the public process and the town was forced to go over old ground.
"Certainly the opportunities were there. We've had townwide mailings," she said. "Obviously, there's this: Excuse me, where were you?"
Despite the Orleans town meeting vote in October 2008, overwhelmingly endorsing the wastewater plan, a town committee was formed to "peer review" scientific conclusions of University of Massachusetts scientists [which had] already been reviewed by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
But selectman chairman David Dunford sees things differently. He believes McKusick's committee was always preaching to a core group of about 300 voters who would show up at hearings and town meetings. The reality of a $150 million project didn't dawn on most citizens, he said.
"When something that is not pleasant is about to fall on you, it tends to focus your attention," he said.
Sometimes, citizens — seasonal residents and newcomers, for example — are in the dark because they weren't here.
'In the dark'
When Alice Kuntz bought her Harwich home in August, the real estate agent told her the woods out back were conservation land, she said.
What he either neglected to tell her or didn't know, was that the town was planning on installing two wind turbines on the land.
"It's supposed to be 800 feet from my back door and 400 feet tall, equivalent to 40 stories," Kuntz said. "We feel like we were very much in the dark. I wish the town would have notified us in person."
"I feel like it kind of got slipped in the back door," she added.
But the possibility that turbines could be built on that land — water department property — had been in the news and discussed at public meetings for months, said Harwich Water Department Superintendent Craig Wiegand.
A presentation on the town Web site for an Oct. 26 public meeting on the proposal shows the turbine locations on a map, as did the warrant for the Nov. 12 special town meeting.
There was little discussion at town meeting, and voters nearly unanimously authorized selectmen to contract to build the turbines.
Wiegand is not sympathetic to those who say it flew under their radar. "There's a lot of information out there," he said. "If you choose not to go to town meeting, you've given up your right to complain."
CHATHAM TOWN OFFICIALS FAIL TO COME CLEAN ON SEWER COSTS: $2,600 OR $175 PER YEAR FOR AVERAGE HOMEOWNER?
Chatham’s town officials, despite repeated requests, have not published detailed information about the cost of the centralized sewer system they are proposing, although Dr. Robert Duncanson, who is in charge of the project under Town Manager William Hinchey, told a Cape Cod Times reporter this past week (Cape Cod Times, December 7, 2009) that over 20 years it would only cost the average homeowner $3,500 or $175 a year on average.
For a $200-$300 million project, that is an unbelievable statement. It is a shame that town officials have not published detailed information to substantiate that claim -- but then, they could not. They should publish the real information in full detail so taxpayers will know what town officials are planning for them to pay. The financial information about taxpayer costs in the Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan posted on the town's website is also inaccurate, incomplete and not credible.
In the absence of any credible estimates of the true cost to taxpayers of the proposed centralized sewer, Chatham Concerned Taxpayers did its own calculation of costs based on publicly available information and common engineering assumptions and the best financing arrangements currently available from the state, e.g., 30 year terms, level payment, 2%.
For those getting sewers in so-called Phase 1 (about two-thirds of all residential properties) the average homeowner cost over 20 years will be about $52,000, not $3,500. Their average annual cost will be about $2,600 or $217 a month over a 20-year period. Payments will continue for 30 more years until all the debt incurred to finance the project is paid. The total financed cost of this property would be about $76,109.
The big story continues to be the $240 million centralized sewer that town officials are planning to build, apparently without any town meeting ever voting on it.
It appears as if town officials are content to just use the vote this past May for a $60 million upgrade of the treatment plant as the only vote they need to plow ahead with their centralized sewer plan for the whole town.
Why is that, you may ask?
Once that upgrade to the treatment plant is done, in just two years from now according to the plan, we've been told voters will be forced to go ahead with the $240 million big city sewer or “waste” the money spent on the upgrade. The huge enlargement of capacity will require lots of wastewater to run properly. Their apparent strategy on this is just as clever as how they whisked the treatment plant upgrade through town meeting on a quick vote to see if the town could get “free” federal stimulus money, which required having all approvals in hand and being “shovel ready” by the deadline of February 17, 2010. Nobody understood the implications of that vote. CCT said at the time, well, let's get all the facts out on costs, stimulus and everything else and maybe in December or January a town meeting could vote to ratify or rescind the May vote, which was cast by an uninformed electorate. It isn't going to happen, if town officials have the say.
Indeed, as of this writing, taxpayers have still not been told what the true costs to them will be. But now maybe there's not even the need to rush for the stimulus money. The White House seems to have dropped the deadline and promised worthy projects will get funded after February 17.
As for costs, Dr. Duncanson made the astounding statement to a Cape Cod Times reporter last Saturday that the average homeowner would pay only $175 a year on average for 20 years for his sewer, which doesn’t compute. That amount wouldn’t even cover the average hook-up charge of $6,500 over 20 years let alone his cost for the sewer! This extraordinary assertion motivated CCT to do its own calculation. We found that for the average homeowner who gets sewered, the costs will be in the neighborhood of $2200 a year, not $175, on average over the first 20 years of financing. Get the details. (Payments will continue for another30 years.) See our analysis!)
We’re asking that town officials issue detailed financial information to support Duncanson’s claim or provide the real cost information for all property owners.
Again, the town should stop rushing the taxpayers along.
This is the biggest expense in the history of Chatham. Already, Chatham spends more per capita on capital projects than any other town on the Cape. Outstanding bonds to be paid off are now about $30 million. Imagine adding $240 million plus in debt to that! Multiplying debt eight-fold!
And we're in the middle of a great recession. Last spring CCT urged town officials to defer non-emegency capital spending in light of the dire economic situation, but they decided to press ahead anyway with the PD/Annex and this massive sewer project. The debt service costs for these two projects will be driving the property tax up in the not too distant future.
This project should not go into the ground until taxpayers have had a chance to be fully informed and a town meeting vote is held. But town officials have goine ahead and put out contract bids, which now have been opened. They are in the process of negotiating contracts with the aim of getting the treatment plant underway before taxpayers learn of the costs they will be forced to pay.
There are low cost systems that do the nitrogen reduction job just as well. They can be integrated into the sewer plan to save as much as $100 million in taxpayer money. Thus far, town officials have refused to evaluate them.
Selectmen have a fiduciary duty to spend taxpayer money wisely and they have not demonstrated they are doing that.
CCT does not believe chasing $10 million in stimulus money and ignoring $100 million in possible savings for taxpayers is responsible stewardship. The midst of a great recession is no time for wasteful spending, no time for such an expensive sewer system when the job can be done for so much less.
Let's stop and do this right. Many good Chatham citizens worked hard to identify the nitrogen problem and map out what needed to be done. But they never were shown any low cost alternatives that can reduce nitrogen as well as the big city sewer systems and cost far less to build and operate. All in all, they are better environmentally, are cheaper and can be built in much less time with far less disruption. Good information was presented at the recent forum in Mashpee on "Rethinking Sewers." Also, check this.
Town officials should inform taxpayers of the true costs of the proposed centralized sewer for their properties. Taxpayers should learn what alternatives can be utilized to bring the costs down. They should have the right to vote on the entire nitrogen reduction plan when it is finalized, hopefully at much less cost than town officials are currently proposing.
Instead, it appears as if town officials are buying a white elephant for the town's taxpayers and, worst yet, the taxpayers don't even know how much they are going to have to pay for it.
Chatham may be the last Cape Cod town to buy a centralized sewer system. Other Cape towns are looking at alternatives to big city sewer systems. These expensive systems just aren't needed to solve the excess nitrogren problem. Officials in Falmouth, Mashpee and Orleans want to save taxpayer money and aren't convinced they need to buy a white elephant as Chatham is doing.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the President has said that worthy projects that aren't ready for the February 17, 2010 target date for the first stimulus plan can relax.
"White House economist Jared Berstein said worthy projects not deemed "shovel ready" in the initial funding applications now will see money, implying that federal stimulus spending could stretch well beyond 2010."So there is no reason not to take the time to evaluate how much money Chatham taxpayers can save by integrating decentralized systems and innovative devices such as the Nitrex permeable barrier approved by DEP for installation in Orleans into the nitrogren reduction program.
Wtth as much as $100 million in taxpayer savings possible, town officials have a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers to determine how and where to utilize these alternatives.
It never made any sense to rush to get "free" federal stimulus money of perhaps $10 or $15 million and ignore possible savings of $100 million or more.
DEP, "MINDFUL OF FINANCIALS CHALLENGES FACING YOUR CONSTITUENTS," APPROVES COST-SAVING ALTERNATIVE WASTEWATER APPROACH
Representative Matt Patrick (Falmouth) has been working closely with the Department of Environmental Protection on getting its attention focused urgently on the need for less costly solutions to the removal of nitrogen from the Cape's coastal waters.
Patrick has just been informed by the DEP Commissioner Laurie Bird that DEP has approved the installation of a Nitrex permeable barrier in Orleans to demonstrate its effectiveness in removing nitrogen and other contaminants in the groundwater before they enter Pleasant Bay waters.
The Lombardo Nitrex barrier is installed in the ground at water's edge and intercepts nitrogen and other contaminants already in the groundwater and prevents them from entering the bay.
What's particularly important about the DEP approval is the Commissioner's statement that "DEP is mindful of the financial challenges facing your constituents."
More than a few believe that DEP is indifferent to what an environmental solution costs taxpayers; the attitude has seemed to be, "Just do it, whatever it costs."
For those who think this, this statement is a dramatic endorsement of the success Matt Patrick is having in his work with the Governor, the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs and Commissioner Burt in getting them to recognize that cheaper alternatives to solve the nitrogen problem must be utilzed. If the EPA and national environmental organizations support the use of alternatives to centralized sewers such as decentralized systems, why shouldn't the DEP?Continue reading "DEP, "MINDFUL OF FINANCIALS CHALLENGES FACING YOUR CONSTITUENTS," APPROVES COST-SAVING ALTERNATIVE WASTEWATER APPROACH"
CONSERVATION LAW FOUNDATION SAYS CAPE TAXPAYERS SHOULD LOOK AT ALTERNATIVES TO CENTRALIZED SEWERS FIRST
Chatham selectmen, among other Cape Cod officials, keep warning that the Conservation Law Foundation will sue if they don't push ahead with their centralized sewer plans.
That's not true.
CLF was the major force behind the Boston Harbor clean-up solely using a centralized sewer system for the entire Greater Boston area that collected wastewater (and water from the water tables) and dumped it about nine miles out in Cape Cod Bay. As a consequence, Greater Boston reservoirs and streams today are experiencing smaller water flows.
What does CLF say today? Cape Cod towns should carefully look at low cost decentralized sewer systems and not be rushed into building big city-type sewer systems by municipal officials.
These quotes are from an article in the Cape Codder (Wicked Local Orleans) by Doreen Leggett on May 8, 2009:
If Conservation Law Foundation does sue, it won’t be to superimpose Boston Harbor’s solution on Cape Cod.
“The biggest lesson I learned from the Boston Harbor cleanup is we didn’t work hard enough to look at alternative approaches to wastewater,” said Peter Shelley, a vice president at CLF who was involved in the Boston Harbor suit.Continue reading "CONSERVATION LAW FOUNDATION SAYS CAPE TAXPAYERS SHOULD LOOK AT ALTERNATIVES TO CENTRALIZED SEWERS FIRST"
Decentralized sewer systems are mini-sewer systems. Rather than lay big pipes all over town, neighborhoods needing treatment can be serviced one by one, thus saving moving wastewater great distances to one place where the wastewater usually gets wasted by being dumped into the ocean. Decentralized sewers save taxpayer money. EPA favors decentralized sewers over centralized sewers as better for the environment and more affordable for communities. So does the Conservation Law Foundation and national environmental organizations such as Clean Water Action.
The first chart below shows how decentralized and centralized systems differ. The conventional centralized system lays big pipes deep under streets and drains all the wastewater to one location, as in Chatham's case above Cockle Cove, to drain into the cove and Nantucket Sound. Along the way it picks up a great deal of drinkng water from the water table, which also winds up wastedin Nantucket Sound.
Continue reading "DECENTRALIZED LOW COST SEWERS -- BETTER, FASTER, CHEAPER"
DECEMBER 6, 2009
RETHINKING SEWERS ON CAPE COD: TAXPAYERS DEMAND PUBLIC OFFICIALS NOT WASTE MONEY ON UNNECESSARILYEXPENSIVE CENTRALIZED SEWERS
December 5, 2009--On a rainy Saturday just a few weeks before Christmas about 110 people from across Cape Cod gathered in Mashpee to learn about better, faster and cheaper ways to clean up the Cape’s waters of its excess nitrogen than with hugely expensive and disruptive conventional centralized sewer systems.
Officials and taxpayers, consultants and environmentalists from the towns of Chatham, Orleans, Dennis, Barnstable, Mashpee, Falmouth and Sandwich were in the audience as was Department of Environmental official David DeLorenzo.
The principal sponsor was the national environmental organization Clean Water Action, which claims 30,000 members in Massachusetts.
Representative Matt Patrick opened the proceedings by detailing the struggles faced by taxpayers he deals with on a daily basis and the impossibility of their being able to bear the cost of the centralized sewer system ($600 million) being proposed by Stearns & Wheler for his home town of Falmouth.
As Patrick said, “I don’t fault Stearns & Wheler. Their job is to make money and building these big sewer systems is a great way for them to do that.” It’s up to public officials to find ways to do the job cheaper.
Representative Patrick said that the billions it would take to build centralized sewer systems all over Cape Cod was a mad and unnecessary expenditure – even it were affordable, which it is not.Continue reading "MASHPEE CONFERENCE ON SAVING MONEY ON SEWERS SMASH SUCCESS"
Despite the repeated urging, pleading even, of Chatham Concerned Taxpayers, Chatham town officials have to this point refused to even look at methods to clean up the coastal waters at far less cost to taxpayers than what they are planning.
Even though alternatives to the conventional, hugely expensive centralized sewer system used in densely populated big cities exist and can do the job just as well at far less cost, Chatham officials seem determined to spend at least $300 milliion of taxpayer money to install a townwide sewer system. For a town with about 6,500 residents, this has to be the most expensive sewer on Cape Cod.
It is not clear who decided to plan for a centralized sewer system that will cover the entire town when it isn't needed to solve the environmental problem that was the reason for starting the process in the first place.
There has been no town meeting vote to plan to spend $340 million to sewer the entire town.
There has been no town meeting vote to plan to spend $240 million to clean up the coastal waters rather than spend far less to solve the problem.
Surveys indicate Chatham taxpayers could save as much as $100 million (of the $240 million) in cleaning up their coastal waters, but the selectmen and town manager refuse to even consider these cost effective alternatives.
Whaat about the fiduciary duty to spend taxpayer money wisely?
An important workshop on alternatives to hugely expensive centralized sewers is taking place this Saturday, December 4, in Mashpee. It begins at 9 and ends at 4. For the program, directions and a short explanation of how decentralized systems work, click the link below.
Even though Chatham town officials aren't interested in saving tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer dollars in the task of cleaning up coastal waters from excess nitrogen, taxpayers all across the Cape, including in Chatham, are. Chatham Concerned Taxpayers is a workshop sponsor.
Cape Cod taxpayers are objecting to the staggering costs of centralized sewers to solve the nitrogen problem in coastal waters. Stearns & Wheler’s new number for Falmouth is $600 million, up from $500 million. The Stearns & Wheler number for Mashpee has been $550 million; maybe that will go up now, too. For just two Cape towns, the costs are over $1 billion before interest and the inevitable cost escalation. With 14 of the 15 Cape towns having to address a nitrogen loading problem, how many billions will centralized sewers cost?
Former State Representative Eric Turkington, who lives in Falmouth, is working with present State Representative Matt Patrick on getting the state Department of Environmental Protection more focused on less expensive alternatives to centralized sewers that are common in other U.S. states and in Canada that will do the nitrogen removal job just as well.
Mass. DEP has cold-shouldered these alternatives. We understand that DEP is now under orders from Secretary Ian Bowles to put these cost effective alternatives on an equal evaluation basis. The Office of the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Department of Environmental Protection are attempting to fast-track an information session for Cape Cod on nitrogen removing cost effective alternatives for later this month.
The article by Mr. Turkington that appears below makes some financial comparisons to show the magnitude of the cost to Falmouth property owners of a Big Sewer solution. Using the same approach, the comparison for Chatham is far worse: Where Falmouth would be “quadrupling” its outstanding debt with funding for the centralized sewer ($150 million, adding $600 million), Chatham officials are proposing to add to our present debt of $30 million some $210 million or $300 million, depending on what year you stop counting. Those are seven-fold and 10-fold increases.
To the Chatham numbers can be added the $30 million cost to taxpayers for running the centralized system for the 20 years before it’s fully operational at the end of Phase 1.
And one cannot forget the individual property owner’s cost of connecting to the system: For the two-thirds of property owners that will be connected in Phase 1, that’s at least another $28 million.
What Turkington says about the centralized sewer cost crowding out other capital needs and constraining budget growth applies to Chatham as well. Bond payments will run out for 50 years.
It’s no wonder that Cape towns want less expensive alternatives and state officials are finally paying attention.Continue reading "FALMOUTH DEMANDING ALTERNATIVES TO TOO EXPENSIVE BIG SEWER"
FORMER TOP FEDERAL EPA EXPERT SAYS ALTERNATIVE (LOW COST) SEWERS CAN SAVE CHATHAM TAXPAYERS AS MUCH AS $100 MILLION
CONVENTIONAL SEWERS VS. ALTERNATIVE (LOW COST) SEWERS
Jim Kreissl is the Environmental Protection Agency’s former principal technical expert for small community wastewater collection, treatment and reuse systems and onsite wastewater systems.
1. The cost of the recommended conventional gravity sewer for Chatham is about $200/ linear foot. This is about twice that expected in the US. It represents 83% of the total cost of the project or $240,000,000. In contrast, the more than 1,000 alternative collection systems (e.g., effluent sewers, grinder-pump pressure sewers, and vacuum sewers) installed in the country have averaged around $10,000 per house served. When compared to conventional sewering, these systems have generally saved from 25% to 50% of the capital cost. The inclusion of 80 lift stations in the Chatham planned conventional centralized sewer will drive up the cost of operation and maintenance significantly by at least $250,000/year and require hiring several additional employees by the town.
2. Alternative sewers consist of small-diameter plastic pipes that are buried below the frost line (usually about 30 in.), while conventional sewers are usually buried from 8 to 20 feet below the ground. The alternative or “low-cost” sewers can be laid by smaller equipment that is not limited to roadways. They also employ longer, lighter-weight pipe lengths and quickly-fitted elastomeric pipe joints. Thus, because much greater lengths of pipe can be laid per day, the community disruption is significantly less and shorter in duration.
3. These low-cost systems, with fewer and more water-tight joints, reduce the potential for infiltration and inflow (I/I). Coupled with their location, generally above the water table in Chatham, while conventional sewers lie below it, the potential for infiltration and inflow is greatly reduced. This means that only wastewater is to be treated at the treatment facility, not a mixture of wastewater and I/I fresh water that is the case with the conventional system. This saves the cost of unwanted additional treatment and dispersal capacity at the facility.
4. Alternative sewers do not need manholes, a feature required in conventional sewers every 250 or so feet (depending on the rules). These features cost about $2,000 each and offer opportunities for additional I/I to reach the sewer. By their nature, alternative systems also minimize the need for lift stations that are also expensive to construct and to maintain (there are 80 of these in the Chatham recommended plan).
5. One of these alternative sewers could be substituted for the proposed conventional sewer in Chatham and could easily save close to $100,000,000.
6. The potential impacts of the conventional sewer on Chatham are the growth-inducement that invariably follows its installation in order to reduce the cost per user, the potential drainage of the valuable fresh water lens that exists under the town, and the lengthy and severe community disruption during the next 30 years of proposed construction. If growth is what the citizens of the town want, they will surely get in spades after the sewer is built. If several neighboring communities also opt for the conventional sewer, the freshwater lens along the south coast of the Cape will be severely reduced, promoting saltwater intrusion under the land area and potential reduction of fresh drinking water along the Cape. Finally, the disruption that the town’s permanent population will endure over the next few decades will be severe, with a lack of alternative routes to take while main streets are blocked and businesses are jeopardized for lack of access to patrons. Even with seasonally limited construction, these problems will also likely impact seasonal residents.
7. The best way to maximize the potential value of alternative sewers is to consider using a decentralized approach. For example, if naturally draining, nitrogen elimination areas (target areas or hot spots) are identified, alternative sewers could deliver the wastewater from the sources (homes and businesses) to a cluster or neighborhood facility for treatment by passive means and infiltration or reuse. This will assure that the freshwater aquifer will remain intact and that the energy and facilities to remove it to another watershed will not be required. This approach reduces the amount of pipeline length required for collection and can be used to retain community character by not inducing unwanted growth in that area. New development will be required to manage whatever wastewater it will generate in its development plans and will be subject to the management of the sewer management authority.
8. In outlying areas that are difficult for even low-cost sewers to reach, onsite nitrogen removal systems can be required subject to the oversight of the sewer management authority. That authority may choose to operate and maintain these systems with internal staff or hire contractors to do so. The management task is far less than that required for the proposed Chatham conventional sewer system with its 80 lift stations, many, many miles more of deeply laid piping subject to enormous infiltration and inflow, several hundred manholes and required main flushing.
9. The technologies are available for alternative sewer systems to remove nitrogen at whatever the treatment level is –central, cluster or individual onsite locations. These low cost systems can be equipped to handle phosphorous (for fresh water ponds) and contaminants of emerging concern such as pharmaceutical residues and other chemicals. Alternative systems also typically provide UV disinfectant, which the proposed Stearns & Wheler plan seems to omit.
10. These systems are very reasonably priced, particularly in light of the recommended Chatham solution. Any state limitations or restrictions about their use should be evaluated and promptly modified in light of the huge economic overall Cape Cod needs. They are in widespread use throughout the United States and in Canada. Without question, these alternative systems provide the most cost effective solution for taxpayers. They are also environmentally superior.
11. The use of the Nitrex porous reactive barrier (PRB) technology utilizing the patents of the University of Waterloo in Ontario is particularly intriguing owing to its ability to provide an immediate reduction of the thousands of pounds of nitrogen that already exist in the ground water around the Cape that is moving towards the coastal waters. All other technologies will not have any impact for several years owing to the time it will take to flush the aquifer of those existing contaminants.
Additional information about Jim Kreissl
Jim Kreissl, Environmental Consultant, formerly of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Small community wastewater systems
Until his retirement, Jim Kreissl was the Environmental Protection Agency’s principal technical expert for small community wastewater collection, treatment and reuse systems and onsite wastewater systems. He now serves on the Water Environmental Research Foundation’s Decentralized Research Advisory Council, is an affiliate of the National Environmental Services Center and, until recently Chairman of the Water Environment Federation’s Small Communities Committee. Now as a consultant at Tetra Tech, he has authored several EPA reports designed to promote effective management of decentralized/distributed systems and has made many presentations at conferences and workshops on these topics. Mr. Kreissl holds degrees in civil engineering and sanitary engineering from Marquette and the University of Wisconsin. He makes his home in Kentucky.
Chatham Concerned Taxpayers has notified the Chatham selectmen and the Chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee that CCT will accept their suggestion to have the Citizens Advisory Committee oversee the evaluation of low cost sewer alternatives which can do the job of nitrogen reduction at far less cost than the centralized sewer system advocated by sewer consultant Stearns & Wheler.
The CAC has never evaluated any decentralized low cost systems that cost far less than conventional centralized sewer system while cleaning the waters just as well if not better than the centralized systems.
Over the past several days CCT has consulted with members of the new coalition that is forming to demand affordable solutions to Cape Cod's problem of excess nitrogen in its coastal waters. Already, taxpayers from Falmouth, Mashpee, Orleans, Dennis and Chatham have indicated they will join the Cape Cod Clean Water Coalition for Cost Effective Alternatives.
CCT reported on last Tuesday's rejection by the Chatham Board of Selectmen the request of CCT to get directly involved in a process to evaluate low cost alternatives. CCT expressed its dismay that the selectmen could seem so uninterested in the possibility of saving tens of millions of dollars for property taxpayers. The vote was 5 to 0 against getting directly involved.
CCT did note that the Chairman of the Board Ron Bergstrom did suggest that CCT go to the Citizens Advisory Committee, which is still in existence and operating, to conduct a current evaluation of low cost options that CCT maintains have never been considered. The other selectmen seemed to agreement, though no formal vote was taken.
After lengthy discussion, the members of the Coalition urged CCT to do just that. After all, an opportunity such as that had never been provided before. Also, Robert Duncanson, who runs the nitrogen reduction project for Town Manager William Hinchey, did admit at the selectmen's meeting that the Lombardo Nitrex system did deliver effluent quality results at or near that of today's best wastewater treatment plants. At the time he refused Lombardo the opportunity to be presented to the CAC he believed there were too few samples to have it considered.
Therefore, CCT has decided to let the Board of Selectmen know that it it will accept its suggestion and will apply to the CAC for the opportunity to present the case for low cost alternatives to the proposed expensive centralized sewer system in the hope and expectation that a full, objective and open evaluation process will follow.
As CCT had made clear in the past, all taxpayers should be appreciative of the many years of work CAC members spent analyzing and quantifying the problem and coming up with a solution that works. CCT has no quarrel with any of that. CCT's question was and is a simple one: "With such staggering costs involved ($240 million in 2007 dollars, without interest and without regard to the inevitable Big Dig-type cost escalation, isn't there a less expensive way to do the job?"
That's what CCT spent studying for the past several months since May's town meeting. We discovered that there are more than a thousand low cost sewer systems operating just fine throughout the United States and Canada. Many of them are capable of dealing with septic nitrogen removal where it is needed. It was this discovery and with the urging of the leadership of Friends of Chatham Waterways that CCT sponsored the September 12th forum "Cleaning the Waters and Saving Taxpayer Money, Too."
Town officials then decided to do their own forum to present how they analyzed the nitrogen problem, how they decided on what needed to be done and the conclusion they came to that a conventional centralized big city sewer would take care of the nitrogen removal problem.
As for the discussion of alternatives, that was left to the proponent of the centralized sewer Stearns & Wheler, which never did evaluate a first class low cost sewer system such as that provided by Lombardo Associates, currently under consideration in Mashpee and involved in discussions in other Cape towns. The offer of an expert on alternative low cost systems as a speaker was rejected.
Mashpee invited Lombardo to submit an engineering estimate to deal with its nitrogen removal problem after receiving Stearns & Wheler's estimate of $550 million; Lombardo's estimate is $250 million. Mashpee is now in the process of determining how it will evaluate the two approaches. Mashpee's man in charge said it well: "I'd be a fool if I didn't look at possible savings of $300 million."
CCT has received assurances from experts in low cost alternative systems they will cooperate with the CAC and taxpayers in providing detailed information about such systems. The former top researcher for EPA in this area, Jim Kreissl, for one has agreed to participate. We are confident we will be able to line up a number of credible and well known authorities to present.
Since there are so many taxpayers who do not know about such low cost alternatives, we will ask the CAC in the first instance to hold an open hearing in one of the town's larger auditoriums as well as to broadcast it over Channel 18. The rooms used for presentations to this point have a seating capacity of only100 or less, while the largest school auditorium can seat nearly 1,000.
It is hoped that the presentations in Chatham can be coordinated with the all-day Capewide conference on low cost alternative sewer systems being plannned for November sponsored by the Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Department of Environmental Protection.
This is the most important, the most expensive undertaking in Chatham's history. Even if low cost alternatives are integrated with the town's existing sewer system, the solution will not be cheap. While as much as $100 to $120 million might be saved, that will still leave a huge cost for taxpayers. Taxpayers need to know that every effort has been made to ensure that dealing with the excess nitrogen problem will be achieved in the most cost effective way possible.
Chatham Concerned Taxpayers issued this press release today.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE October 21, 2009
CHATHAM SELECTMEN TELL TAXPAYERS TO GET LOST
Chatham, Massachusetts – Last night Chatham selectmen refused to even look into an alternative plan that could save Chatham taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in cleaning up Chatham’s coastal waters.
Chatham has a plan in hand from the centralized sewer system specialist Stearns & Wheler for $340 million.
On September 22nd Chatham Concerned Taxpayers asked the selectmen, in the “exercise of their fiduciary duty to taxpayers” to look at decentralized systems such as are common elsewhere in the country that its investigations showed have the potential for saving up to half the cost of the proposed Stearns & Wheler system.
Mashpee has also received a hugely expensive estimate for a Stearns & Wheler centralized sewer system -- $550 million. But Mashpee went out and obtained an estimate from a provider of decentralized systems that will take care of the nitrogen problem for $250 million. As Mashpee’s man in charge said: “I’d be a fool not to look at a possible savings of $300 million.”
Not so for Chatham’s selectmen. They summarily voted NO 5-0 to looking at saving the kind of money for taxpayers that Mashpee is considering.
So Chatham taxpayers are facing the prospect of paying twice as much as they need to in property taxes to fix the town’s nitrogen problem. Would the alternative system do the job at far less cost, as claimed? Chatham taxpayers will never know, because the selectmen couldn’t be bothered with checking it out.
Chatham Concerned Taxpayers also announced to the Chatham selectmen last night that a coalition of officials and taxpayers across the Cape are joining together to demand increased state action on alternative systems because the costs of the centuries-old centralized sewer methods have escalated beyond reason. Citizens of Falmouth, Mashpee, Dennis, Orleans, Barnstable and Chatham have already indicated a readiness to band together. State Representative Matt Patrick is in the process of organizing a meeting with Secretary of Energy and the Environment Ian Bowles and top Department of Environmental Protection officials for the coalition.
Chatham is the only Cape town now rushing ahead to build a centralized sewer system which will cost the average property owner more than $55,000 in taxes and hook-up costs -- before adding interest and the inevitable cost escalation of a 20-year project.
Michael Barone comments today on the manipulation of the little people practiced by the insiders in the Chicago political machinery.
But his commentary is relevant to small towns such as Chatham as well. Consider this paragraph -- and use your imagination.
That's governance, Chicago style. The head of government is friends with the heads of every big business, lobby and union, and together they make decisions on how everyone else will live. Those on the inside get what they want. Those on the outside -- well, they get what the big guys want them to have. That's life in the big city.
In a small Cape Cod town such as Chatham, do insiders work with the town manager or administrator, who really controls the levers of power, to get what they want? Summer residents who pay most of the taxes but don't have the vote, no problem, they're insiders. They want a big sewer, bigger than needed to solve the nitrogen problem in the water? No problem, will the town manager see that they get it? Prominent organizations who benefit from appointments to important town commitees and have their own wish lists play ball in return.
Is there a need to squeeze taxpayer complaints out of air time at selectmen's meetings? No problem, a prominent organization which also wants a sewer and doesn't care about the cost agrees with the town manager/administrator to schedule an hour and 15 minute conversation with the selectmen for one of the other organizations they control that could happen anytime, but it's needed to run the clock against the taxpayers. No problem, they are there to back up the town manager. And the golf or the archery committee is ready to discuss its desire for more power at the drop of a hat. They're good for an hour, too.
So, the biggest decision of the century for Chatham is to be discussed -- a $340 million centralized sewer system. But, what do you know, there's only 20 to 25 minutes left before the hall has to be vacated for another meeting to begin.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer property taxes are at stake. Taxpayers point out opportunities for cutting perhaps as much as half the cost of the big city sewer system the town manager wants to give to the summer residents. They think the selectmen ought to look into it.
Time's up. No, we can't bother looking into that, say the selectmen. We don't care that some other town is doing what we won't do, giving careful consideration to saving $300 million for their taxpayers. Our taxpayers won't mind paying twice what they should. They've almost always done what we've told them to do. Why should this be different just because the possible savings are more than $100 million? They'll still trust us.
Mayor Daley must be smiling proudly.
And the little people who live in Chatham? They'll pay.
In a shocking display of indifference to the interests of Chatham's taxpayers, the Chatham Selectmen last night, in a unanimous vote, refused to consider a plan that could save taxpayers up to half the cost of the $240 million project to clean the waters of Chatham of their nitrogen problem.
The town-organized forum on the Chatham clean water plan this past Saturday was, as expected, a one-sided sales job for what town officials and their sewer consultant Stearns & Wheler are trying to convince taxpayers is the one and only way to solve the problem of excess nitrogen in our coastal waters. (Friends of Chatham Waterways had rejected including a knowledgeable spokesman for less expensive alternatives, but left the presentation about alternative solutions to, who else? Big Sewer's Stearns & Wheler.)
But, when push came to shove, and Chatham's Selectmen had the power to consider a far less costly way to fix the nitrogen problem, would they do the right thing by their taxpayers?
Last night the answer was "NO."
CCT has never disputed that the hugely expensive Stearns & Wheler centralized sewer plan will do the job. Our question has been "Can it be done cheaper?"
CCT has done enough investigation and study to conclude that an approach that would include modular systems in the Chatham plan has the potential of saving tens of millions of dollars. Shouldn’t Chatham at least looks at that?
CCT hoped that, with so much money at stake, Chatham's Selectmen would be sane and sensible and would show their concern for taxpayers. It didn't happen. They sold Chatham's resident taxpayers down the river.
The Town of Mashpee, faced with a similar potential for cost savings as Chatham, has said it would take a hard look at a different way to get the job done at far less cost.
Mashpee also received a shockingly high estimate from Stearns & Wheler for a traditional centralized sewer system to solve its nitrogen problem -- $550 million. Mashpee decided to ask a provider of a different approach featuring decentralized sewer systems for a similar estimate and got one for $250 million, 55% less than the Stearns & Wheeler number. Will Mashpee consider this alternative? Of course, it will. Mashpee's man in charge said: "I'd be a fool not to consider possible savings of $300 million."
But that's not Chatham's way. Tuesday night, in an artfully staged agenda for the Selectmen's meeting, the Selectmen voted 5 to 0 to refuse to even consider saving Chatham taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. Apparently, Chatham Selectmen have no problem with their taxpayers paying up to twice as much as they need to in property taxes to fix Chatham's nitrogen problem.
The Town Manager's agenda put an hour-long status report of the Marconi project, which could have happened anytime, first. Then a lengthy discussion on the power of the Golf Advisory Committee, hardly a pressing issue, took up another big block of time. Then there was a discussion of a real matter, the important zoning change for the Chatham Village Market/CVS scheme, leaving less than a half hour to discuss the most important question for taxpayers of this century (the clock having to stop at 7 for another scheduled meeting):
"Would the selectmen seriously, openly and objectively look into how taxpayers can possibly save up as much as half the cost in property taxes by integrating cluster or other modular systems into the town's plan to fix the nitrogen-in-the-water problem?"
That question was put to them by CCT on September 22nd (see previous blog entries). At that time CCT provided the Selectmen with a great deal of information. In addition, CCT filed an 11-page letter with even more information with the Selectmen on October 13th. So the Selectmen had a lot of information at hand and plenty of time to think before they came up to last night's decision time.
During the course of the discussion the town's side said that the property tax effect of the centralized sewer on the oft-quoted example of the $600,000 home would at its peak only rise to $250 per year and decline after that. There was no time left in the meeting to rebut this preposterous claim:
By CCT's calculation, the debt service cost on the property tax for the Stearns & Wheler centralized sewer on that property would be $250 in the first year, doubling property tax debt service charges, and would more than quadruple over the next 20 years to a peak of $1,170 and remain there for ten more years before beginning to decline! (And that's without taking into account the kind of Big Dig escalation in costs that is likely to occur over those 20 years.) Furthermore, the few charts the Town Manager has shown anyone assume no other capital expenses for 30 years!
Robert Duncanson, who is in charge of the nitrogen project under Town Manager Hinchey, made a number of unsupported statements that also could not be refuted for lack of time. For example, he said the Citizens Advisory Committee had considered the alternative Nitrex system, one of the stars of the new technology that matches the performance of the best big sewer wastewater treatment plan, when two members of that committee told CCT it had not. Duncanson did admit the quality of the effluent output of the Nitrex system was as good as any first-rate centralized wastewater treatment facility.
Duncanson said far more land area was needed for the modular systems than is the case. Another red herring, Duncanson said that there are water areas that require 100% nitrogen removal, when the most that is required is 81%; either way, the Nitrex system can easily handle the requirement. Ms. Seldin, reading from a note apparently provided to her, said that state regulations would require a 100% performance bond for Chatham to use the Nitrex system, which requires special permitting, which is not true. (Even if true, why wouldn't the town want to save the money?)
The Selectmen were unmoved on hearing Mashpee is looking at saving 300 millions of dollars for their taxpayers.
They didn't seem to care about the taxpayer protests rising across the Cape to the proposed huge costs of centralized sewer systems.
They didn't appear interested in learning of the formation of a Cape-wide coalition of taxpayers for cost effective sewer alternatives that will be meeting with the state's Secretary of Energy and Environment to demand action on less expensive alternatives than the hugely expensive centralized sewer systems sold by Stearns & Wheler. Taxpayers and officials in Orleans, Dennis, Barnstable, Mashpee and Falmouth as well as Chatham are demanding alternatives that cost taxpayers far less.
Were the Selectmen interested to hear that the state Department of Environmental Protection had signed off on an all-Cape, all day forum in November on alternative wastewater treatment systems, because “the Cape really has to look at alternatives”? It didn't appear so.
As the Conservation Law Foundation (of all people) has said, "The knee-jerk reaction is a central sewer" because the oldtimers in the DEP are familiar with that. CLF emphasized what the Cape needs to do is look at these alternatives that are mainstream in the rest of the country and not be "pushed into things" by municipal officials. But that’s exactly what's happening in Chatham. "Damn the expenses the taxpayers will be forced to pay, full speed ahead."
The "We can afford it" people are once again telling the taxpayers they will pay for it, whether the expense is needed or not. Debt service on the property tax on top of Proposition 2 1/2 and new growth increases will be unnecessarily squeezing the town's budget and taxpayers for 50 years to come.
The only financial charts shown to anyone by the Town Manager assume no capital spending for anything other than the sewer (and the PD/Annex) for 30 years. How likely is that, since Chatham's annual spending has been growing 6% per year for more than a decade, far above 2 1/2 and new growth (collectively, 3.8%)? The excess is all due to capital spending, since Chatham has had no overrides. So for 30 years there will be no new capital spending?
Yes, Chatham overspends and Chatham overtaxes.
The annual budget is a constant reminder of that.
But this huge project -- it's really $340 million, not "just" $240 million -- represents gargantuan overspending. The cost perhaps could be just as "little" as $120 million. Who wouldn't like to spend that much less? Who wouldn't like to find out if savings of that size are possible? We now know who.
The statement was made by the town official side that the vast majority of resident taxpayers support this spending. First, we would guess that only a small percentage has ever heard the numbers $340 million or $240 million and they surely don't know what that means to their property taxes. Second, CCT will guarantee that hardly anyone has ever heard that cleaning Chatham waters could be done for tens of millions of dollars less than what Chatham town officials are planning to spend of their money. Would they like to save maybe half their property taxes on the water clean-up? You bet they would.
How would Chatham taxpayers save that much money?
$340 million on the property tax: $100 million is to sewer properties that don't need to be sewered to clean up the waters. So drop that $100 million and the taxpayers are looking at a bill of $240 million: Integrating modular systems which require far less piping, don't involve tearing up the streets and digging down up to 20 feet (into the water table), and huge pumps and lifts and lots of heavy equipment, can save -- if you use Mashpee's current estimate ratio -- $132 million for Chatham’s taxpayers.
But say the savings are just half that -- $61 million. Don't forget the $100 million to sewer properties that don't need it -- $100 million. $161 million in savings. Not bad at all.
That's what the Chatham Selectmen, unanimously said "NO' to Tuesday night. They weren't interested in learning about whether these possible savings to taxpayers could be achieved.
That's all CCT asked: Make a serious examination of the savings possibility.
Is it irresponsible not to look at such potential savings? The Selectmen said "NO, it isn't." CCT says, "YES, it is." It's an abdication of the Selectmen's fiduciary duty to taxpayers.
Once taxpayers learn about the many millions of dollars more they will be paying in property taxes because the Selectmen said they couldn't be bothered to look into the possibility that indeed such sums of money could be saved, will they be pleased or angry? Will they be happy or sad that once again town officials chose the most expensive way to do something, this time on the biggest, most expensive project in the town's history?
Chatham town meeting is supposed to be the ultimate example of democracy in action. Too much of the time it rubber stamps what town officials are selling. When will taxpayers wake up to the fact their interests have been trashed, again?
Before any huge expenditure of $240 million or $340 million for cleaning the waters goes forward, taxpayers should demand that they have the opportunity to vote on the plan at a Town Meeting. That now appears to be the only way they can stop town officials from spending many millions of dollars more of taxpayer money than they need to to clean Chatham's waters of their nitrogen problem.
The town-organized forum on the Chatham clean water plan was as expected, a one-sided presentation of what town officials and their sewer consultant Stearns & Wheler came up as the one and only way to solve the problem of excess nitrogen in our coastal waters.
Since the offer by CCT to provide a spokesman for alternative ways to save tens of millions of dollars was rejected, there was no voice to counter the incorrect and to a large extent irrelevant information suppolied by the town's spokesmen.
Though "hosted" by Friends of Chatham Waterways the program and all speakers were selected by town employee Robert Duncanson who is in charge of the excess nitrogen project under Town Manager William Hinchey.
CCT had offered to produce an EPA expert or someone else knowledgeable of the cost and environmental benefits of alternative systems for the program, but FCW had rejected the offer. There was no effort to present a balanced view
The words "cost effective" and "cost savings" were never used by any speakers on the Duncanson panel.
There are well over 1,000 alternative systems operating in Canada and elsewhere in the United States that can do as good a job as a big centralized sewer system but at far less cost.
The following request for action was delivered to the Board of Selectmen at its meeting on Tuesday, September 22.
It calls upon the Selectmen to recognize their “fiduciary duty” to safeguard taxpayer money by more thoroughly investigating alternative techniques and technologies which have been developed that will remediate the nitrogen loading problem just as effectively, at considerably less expense and much more quickly with less disruption and greater environmental benefit than the outrageously expensive approach currently being recommended."
Here is the text in full:
Chatham Concerned Taxpayers’ Position on
Chatham’s Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan
All of us are united in our desire to rid Chatham’s waterways of excess nitrogen. We believe there are ways to do that which are far less expensive and more environmentally beneficial.
1. The projected cost of $340 million for the proposed centralized sewer system – roughly ten times the entire annual town budget – is too much of a financial burden for taxpayers.
2. The CWMP involves committing the town irreversibly in its earliest stage to an ancient and extremely expensive technology. The town’s plan calls for a huge expansion of the wastewater treatment plant at the very start of the process. If completed as scheduled, it would preclude the consideration and inclusion of alternative technologies that we believe can make it possible to save as much as $100 million while solving the excess nitrogen problem. This cannot be allowed to happen. We believe an incremental, gradual expansion of the treatment plant and a measured area-by-area expansion of the existing sewer system, starting with “hot spots,” in combination with alternative wastewater treatment technologies, will result in a superior environmental solution at much less cost.
3. The projected total burden of the CWMP on property taxes over the years has not been made clear to taxpayers. Further, the cost to individual homeowners has been presented in only summary form. For a project of this magnitude, complete transparency regarding the calculation of costs is required. Taxpayers need to know what they are voting for.
4. The proposed CWMP has been developed based on water use and population assumptions that seem unreasonably high and not supported by recent trends. These assumptions in turn have led to plans for a huge sewer system – some seven times the capacity of the existing system for two-thirds of the town -- that we believe is oversized. It is more costly than required and will provide both the capacity and incentive for undesirable development in the town.
5. The Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs on July 17, 2009 said residents should have input in the final design and cost effectiveness of the plan and that the town should adopt stricter growth control measures prior to the construction of any new sewer extensions. We agree.
6. The CWMP has never been put to Town Meeting and it should be after all the relevant information, including the cost and environmental benefits from integrating alternative technologies with our existing sewer system, has been developed and widely disseminated. Only a $59 million bond issue was put before town meeting, not a $340 million plan.
7. The $59 million bond issue was accelerated and pushed through Town Meeting on the basis that stimulus funding could be obtained. We don't believe the prospect of stimulus funding should be the tail that wags the dog, being only 4% of the projected total costs.
8. It is our view that the proposed centralized system is not only wasteful of taxpayer dollars, but has environmental shortcomings. It will also be unnecessarily disruptive to the life of the town for years to come, because of the amount of excavation required. Alternative technologies can help do the job better, faster and cheaper.
All of these concerns, taken together with our overriding concern about cost, prompt us to ask the selectmen, in the exercise of their fiduciary duty to taxpayers, to initiate a process, with the participation of independent citizens, to address these concerns, including the need for stricter growth controls, and compare the environmental benefits, efficacy and cost efficiency of the proposed system with an integrated system utilizing the existing sewer system and modular alternatives, such as distributed systems, of which the Nitrex system is an example.
Orleans selectmen want to evaluate the cost savings from cluster systems over the big city conventional sewer system recommended by its consultant, sewer engineering firm Wright Pierce.
Friday morning, September 25th, Orleans selectmen convened a special meeting before a hall crowded with town residents for a presentation by Lombardo Associates. Cluster systems can solve the problem of septic nitrogen entering the town's seawaters cheaper, faster and better than the conventional sewer system, according to Pio Lombardo.
Savings of 25% to 50% are typical. For a $150 million conventional system, that could be as much as $75 million. In addition, since the construction strategy avoids many miles of unnecessary deep piping that would in part be in the water table, a conventional project that takes 20 years with a great deal of disruption of roadways, can be done in less than ten years with far fewer roadways being affected. Also, the risk of depleting the town's fresh water supply and spoiling marshes is vastly diminished because wastewater is not pumped into the sea in one centralized location as is the case with a conventional system. Instead, in most cases wastewater is saved for reuse and allowed to percolate back into the ground as it normally would.
The Wright-Pierce study, as had the Chatham study done by its consultant Stearns & Wheler, had dismissed cluster systems as more expensive than a conventional system. Stearns & Wheler, the dominant sewer consultant on Cape Cod, is currently involved in or recommending conventional sewer systems for the large towns of Barnstable, Mashpee and Dennis and even a small town such as Eastham as well as Chatham. The Cape Cod Times reports:
In addition to comparing the cost of clusters vs. sewers, Orleans selectmen also want to host a pilot study of Lombardo's Nitrex wastewater system, Selectman Mark Carron said yesterday.
The selectmen saw Lombardo's permeable barrier, which removes nitrogen in the groundwater before it seeps into the town's coastal waters, at a recent Upper Cape forum.
The Lombardo permeable barrier is based on technoloy pioneered by Canada's University of Waterloo, known throughout North America for its cutting-edge research. The barrier, used in sensitive waterside locations, can show dramatic improvement in water quality years before a conventional sewer system would.
Orleans selectmen were reacting to citizens asking town officials to take a fresh look at cluster systems instead of just plowing ahead with a big city conventional system that is enormously costly and environmentally disruptive.
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.
SAVE TENS OF MILLIONS WHILE SAVING CHATHAM'S WATERS -- WORKSHOP, SATURDAY, SEP. 11, 9 A.M., COMMUNITY CENTER
P.O. BOX 616, NORTH CHATHAM, MA 02650-0616
September 3, 2009
CLEANING THE WATERS AND SAVING TAXPAYER MONEY, TOO
Chatham property taxes are about to explode.
CCT made a great effort to reduce FY10 spending at the spring town meeting but fell short as town officials prevailed with their spending plan.
Town revenues other than property taxes are all down. We don’t know how much because the town has not released that information. If those revenues come up short (and they are off in other Cape towns), the town will try to increase property taxes over the $770,000 increase built into the FY10 plan.
Other towns are facing reality. For example, the Town of Brewster is carefully monitoring its revenues and already knows its budget, which was chopped substantially, is still too high, so it’s holding a special meeting this fall to cancel out some of the spending authorized at its spring town meeting.
Chatham Concerned Taxpayers on several occasions urged town officials to postpone new capital projects until better economic times return. Those pleas were rejected. Not only is the staggeringly expensive centralized sewer system expansion on full throttle but so is the PD/Annex. On the town’s schedule, the first year of debt service for both projects could hit taxpayers in 2012. The $600,000 household is currently paying about $255 for debt service in property taxes; in 2012 debt service costs on the property tax could leap to $850 and keep going up for 20 years!
But the elephant in the room for Chatham taxpayers as far as property taxes are concerned is the expansion of the centralized sewer system designed by town officials. Its purpose was and is to eliminate wastewater contribution to nitrogen in Chatham’s embayments. To accomplish this, it is proposed that Chatham taxpayers spend $340 million ($506,904,798 with interest but without adjustment for inflation, by our calculation) over 30 years of construction.
The Town of Orleans has the same nitrogen problem in its waters that Chatham has. Its town officials, like Chatham’s, proposed a major enlargement of its centralized sewer system to address the nitrogen problem at a cost of $150 million. Taxpayers in Orleans revolted at the proposed plan, citing the “overall economic environment.” (See Annex A.) The Orleans selectmen appointed a special citizen committee to critique the key aspects of the plan and now more than 800 voters have petitioned the selectmen to look at less expensive ways to solve their water pollution problem. Some speculate the work of the Validation Committee thus far point the way to savings of as much as $60 million.
Orleans selectmen held a special meeting earlier this month before a packed house to hear from state and county officials. The state and county officials said, despite what citizens may have heard and believed, they were not rushing to push Orleans into a centralized sewer system expansion solution. They said they understood the concern about the huge cost and suggested that Orleans proceed incrementally, testing out a solution in one troublesome area first to see how it works before moving on to other areas requiring attention. They even agreed that Orleans could “test drive” the model used to set the nutrient reduction requirements which the state had developed. (That model was used for all the Cape’s embayments, including Chatham’s.) Orleans’s special citizen committee had criticized what they perceived to be flaws and biases in the model. Criteria for testing the model will be drawn up during the fall by SMAST, the state’s contractor for development of the model.
While there has been a great deal of public discussion about the wastewater disposal plan in Orleans, there has been little in Chatham. To be sure, citizen advisory groups met with town officials over many years to satisfy themselves that what the town officials was proposing would work. And CCT agrees it will work. The question for those who will be paying the bill is, “Can the nitrogen problem be solved for substantially less money that what is being proposed?”
People in Orleans are as committed as those in Chatham to cleaning up water problems, but they want their town to examine ways to do it much less expensively than through a massive expansion of the centralized sewer system – which is exactly what Chatham officials propose be done. There are alternative systems out there that will do as good a job as a huge centralized sewer system at far less cost. Barnstable County runs tests on alternative systems that cost less and tear up roads a lot less. Recent results demonstrate that the nitrogen removal success is just as good as a large wastewater treatment plant, 95% removal of nutrients.
Indeed, county officials went even farther in recognizing that the enormous expense of centralized sewer systems had to be reevaluated and other ways of solving water pollution problems had to be developed. At a meeting on the Cape on August 25th, this was said:
“Sewer construction is going to be necessary for sure, but the Cape needs to look differently at how it approaches sewers and do a better job of managing the growth impacts of sewering.”
“The solutions of the past may not serve us as well into the future.”
“While the Cape needs to collect and treat wastewater, it does not necessarily need large treatment plants serving entire communities to achieve the goal of improved water quality.”
“Many see the 21st-century solution being a combination of strategies using natural freshwater systems such as bogs to naturally attenuate nitrogen with a combination of traditional central treatment and disposal facilities and smaller facilities serving smaller portions of a community or communities working together.”
“Smaller facilities allow communities to better target those areas that need sewering without piping large land areas not requiring collection and treatment.”
What these officials are saying and what Orleans is doing, Chatham should do. If the state and county aren’t rushing Orleans, they shouldn’t be rushing Chatham. Nonetheless, we need to keep the process moving ahead. The plan to clean up the seawaters is a 20 to 30 year plan --unless we can do it faster at less cost.
Reviewing new options that might save tens of millions of dollars – if not more – is in every taxpayer’s interest. As has been pointed out, proceeding incrementally as state and county officials are suggesting, can result in improved conditions sooner in target areas than waiting 20 years for the completion of a centralized solution. The reason stated for Chatham pushing ahead now was the chance to get federal stimulus money. It is quite possible that Chatham will be able to get as much as $10 million or even $15 million, but that is the proverbial drop in the bucket for the half billion dollar cost the current centralized plan will impose on taxpayers.
There is no dispute that a centralized sewer system as proposed can clean up the waters. There are questions: Are there other ways to solve the problem that are much less expensive and can even the centralized system be recast to be less expensive? Less expensive options that did the job as well or better were not presented to the advisory committees for consideration, as CCT understands it. Only the traditional centralized sewer plan was presented as a solution.
Protests against the high costs of expanding centralized sewer systems have erupted in Barnstable and Falmouth as well. 14 of the Cape’s 15 towns have the same nutrient problems Chatham does and ten right now are in various stages of looking at solutions. Chatham got way out in front and has developed the most expensive solution of all towns so far. Chatham can provide an excellent example for all Cape towns if it – along with Orleans -- leads the way to solving the nitrogen problem in a dramatically less costly way utlizing "21st Century" methods. The Massachusetts Secretary for Energy and Environmental Affairs, in his letter approving Chatham’s comprehensive plan, noted the comments on the plan made by CCT and urged the town to work with taxpayers to reduce costs of the project for taxpayers.
There is so much money at stake, it’s almost irresponsible not to evaluate every option that will do the job as well or better for less.
To start to get some answers, Chatham Concerned Taxpayers will hold an informational workshop for the public on “Cleaning the Waters and Saving Taxpayer Money, Too” Saturday morning, September 12th, in the Chatham Community Center, 9 to 12. The program will include experts from the U.S. and Canada with significant experience with innovative wastewater treatment solutions. It’s also possible that there may be ways to save money on our existing centralized sewer system – which will continue to operate no matter what -- through value engineering. Everyone in Chatham is invited. We are also extending the invitation to anyone from any Cape town who would like to learn if and how money can be saved in solving water pollution problems.
Also to be discussed will be the challenge of making whatever the solution is “growth neutral,” that is, so that the disposal system neither encourages nor discourages development. (The size of the treatment plant enlargement town officials are proposing does raise that question very acutely in the view of some.) Chatham is attractive as it is and preserving its character is important to all.
Invite all your neighbors across the Cape interested in saving taxpayer dollars to come to the September 12th workshop.
Fran Meaney and Phil Dupont for
Chatham Concerned Taxpayers
617 512 7743 Cell
PO Box 616, North Chatham, MA 02650-0616
email@example.com Address for Chatham Concerned Taxpayers
www.chathamct.org Our website
Orleans wastewater critics submit petition
August 25, 2009 2:00 AM Cape Cod Times
ORLEANS — Critics of the $150 million proposal for a new treatment plant and sewer system delivered a petition with 870 names of voters and taxpayers to selectmen yesterday.
The petition asks the selectmen to hold a public hearing in the next 30 to 60 days for a thorough discussion of issues raised by petition supporters. Taxpayers should have the opportunity to consider other, decentralized wastewater treatment options, the petition states. A majority of voters backed a draft plan last October after a summer of hearings on various wastewater options.
Selectmen take up the petition and other wastewater issues at their meeting tomorrow. Three agenda items are about the town's next steps in wastewater planning and design after a contentious spring and summer. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in town hall.
One Reader’s response
On Aug 25, 2009 at 11:04 AM, PeoplePower said:
People are finally getting it. The truth is this project in the end will cost taxpayers well over a BILLION DOLLARS. The cost of 150 million is a figure projected for today's cost, NOT TOMORROW, and is deceitful to project. The town projected this same cost two years ago and the cost of concrete and steel has increased by 40% since. People, just look at the BIG DIG, sold to the people at a cost of 2.3 BILLION for this project. It now stands at a cost to taxpayers at 22 BILLION and still growing. The fact is that NO TOWN COULD POSSIBLY TAKE ON SUCH A MASSIVE PUBLIC WORKS PROJECT WITHOUT TAXING EVERYONE OUT OF TOWN. Any Town would go Bankrupt without a Tax Base should it approve such a project which is TOTALLY UNSUSTAINABLE THROUGH TAXIATION. Do the 5th grade math people and you'll realize further what the cost per property when the project grows to the TRUE COST.
After the Orleans wastewater validation committee filed its report with the Orleans selectmen, the astonished selectmen called for responses from state officials and put the comprehensive wastewater management plan on hold. They were not going to allow the Town to be railroaded into a project costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars based on questionable data and questionable solutions.
This led to a contentious meeting with county and state officials that was followed up Wednesday night, August 5th in Orleans. The Board of Selectmen convened a special meeting to address specific questions to county and state officials. The town halll meeting room was packed with taxpayers opposed to spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a sewer that wouldn't solve a problem that may be overstated and misattributed to septic systems.
The officials could not defend the model on which they relied in setting "standards," because those who did the models ((paid for by the state) refused to release the underlying data for analysis. Furthermore, there has been no updating of the model for two years because the state stopped funding the project.
At the meeting It was announced for the first time that just five days ago an agreement was signed which will permit towns to "test drive" the state's model if they have ""qualified" parties to do the testing. Criteria for qualification will be worked up over the next few months by the state and county.
Andrew Gottlieb, who now works for Barnstable County after working for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, was the principal spokesman. He was well-informed and sympathetic to the cost concerns of the selectmen. He acknowledged that there is now Cape-wide concern for the billions of dollars that sewers would cost Cape taxpayers. There have been citizen protests not only in Orleans, but in Barnstable and Falmouth about projected unaffordable costs.
The strong message from the public officials was not to rush ahead. They emphatically denied that the state is forcing towns into building sewer systems. In fact, the advice was to focus on substandard areas and work up a plan to address those areas rather than trying to work out a plan for the entire town. Proceed in phases, wait to see what works, what changes in the environment might do (such as the Nauset Beach break opposite North Chatham), wait to see what works before doing more.
The Orleans selectmen were well-informed, professional and clearly concerned about the hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money that are at stake and are doing their best to save the town money while correcting their water pollution problems. They are beginning by challenging the state-developed methodology that has resulted in some water areas being declared substandard. The selectmen made it clear that they intend to act on substandard areas if they become satisfied they are correctly designated substandard.
The Orleans meeting can be viewed on demand on the website of the Town of Orleans by clicking here and scrolling down to the meeting date of August 4 (should be 5), 2009 and clicking on the date. The relevant part of the meeting begins almost right away (2 minutes in from start) with public comments having to do with water pollution matters. Two men spoke and their messsages are instructive to hear. Both urged the selectmen to show leadership for the 21st century. Alternative systems were urged to sewers and Title 5 systems. The meeting with state and county officials starts at 28 min 20 seconds and runs to 2 hours and 13 minutes.
Discussions such as these have yet to take place in Chatham, where the town is getting ready to launch into a $340 million townwide sewer system without any homeowner knowing just what it's going to cost or anyone having asked whether such a massive expenditure is necessary. Are there other ways to eliminate Chatham's water pollution problems at much less cost? Should Chatham work with Orleans on "test driving" the state model to determine its validity?
We should find out.
Concerns about the staggering costs of conventional sewers are springing up all over Cape Cod from Falmouth to Orleans. Barnstable residents successfully revolted against a hurry-up sewer plan last month because of its high costs, brushing aside the federal stimulus argument. Orleans has hired an independent consultant to review its sewer consultant's $250 million plan and now thinks it can save a great deal of money with an altered plan. Chatham is facing a minimum of $300 million in 2007 dollars to build a traditional sewer system. Falmouth estimates $500 million. Before Falmouth gets pressured into a solution that will drive families out of Falmouth, it appears as if the Town selectmen will take a very hard look at environmetally friendly alternatives that cost far less rather than rushing ahead with a very expensive enlargement of its existing sewer system.
The drive to reexamine wastewater solutions is being led by Third Barnstable state representative Matthew Patrick. Patrick's letter to the Falmouth Board of Selectmen can be read here. The consultant's report that Patrick criticizes was prepared by Stearns & Wheler, which has designed Chatham's conventionally expensive sewer system. Patrick says the high sewer costs will drive working families and families that have lived in Falmouth for generations out of Falmouth. For our previous report on Patrick's efforts, click here.
Debate over wastewater comes home
By John Basile
Wed Jul 15, 2009, 12:29 PM EDT
Falmouth selectmen have not yet scheduled a discussion of State Rep. Matthew Patrick’s call for further study before going ahead with expensive plans to install sewers. But it’s likely they will.
Patrick is urging Falmouth to consider all alternatives before committing to hundreds of millions of dollars in sewer construction.
Patrick sent a letter to selectmen, the board of health and the conservation commission in which he said, “I am convinced that, at present, we are not giving sufficient consideration to viable alternative techniques.”
Patrick said many in Falmouth would be hard-pressed to pay the estimated $40,000 to $60,000 betterment fee that would be required to connect to sewers.
“Statisticsshow that real middle class income has been stagnant for the past decade. One need only consult with the Falmouth Service Center to find out that requests for free food have increased dramatically over that past two years,” Patrick wrote.
Selectman Brent Putnam said Patrick raised important questions that deserve discussion.
“Let’s look at alternatives and give this proper study,” Putnam said. He pointed out that the Massachusetts Estuaries Project model, which has provided much of the data used to determine the impact of nitrogen from septic systems on Falmouth waterways, might itself be flawed. He will ask Selectmen Chairwoman Mary Pat Flynn to place the issue on a future agenda.
Patrick said sewering Falmouth would cost $500 million or more, take more than a decade to complete and cost the town an estimated $6 million a year in maintenance. Town officials have cited lower figures for installation.
Patrick also raised the issue of fairness.
“Asking all residents in town to pay higher taxes to fund sewage treatment to homes closer to the water does not seem fair either. People living north of Route 28 will be asked to absorb a doubling or tripling of the property taxes and will not be connected to the sewer or will be delayed decades before connecting to the sewer. Funding a conventional sewage treatment system in Falmouth, or any other Cape community, is rife with problems and inequities.”
Patrick acknowledged in an interview on Tuesday that as a state representative he has no control over what the town does regarding sewers, but he said it is his responsibility to inform his district, which also includes Mashpee and sections of Osterville, Cotuit and Bourne, of the potential costs of sewering.
As of Tuesday, no reference to Patrick’s letter had been placed on an upcoming agenda.
Patrick is not alone raising concerns about the cost of sewers. Recently, the Barnstable Town Council shelved a plan after many residents complained about the cost. In Orleans, a committee assigned the task or reviewing the studies surrounding the planning for sewers, urged the town to slow down its plans to install up to $250 million worth of sewers. The Orleans committee questioned some of the findings of the Estuaries Project that measured the health of waterways.
Patrick urged Falmouth officials to re-examine the work of its consultant Stearns and Wheler. He also acknowledged that he is asking people to change their thinking abut such alternatives as composting toilets and urine diversion toilet systems.
“People will have to think about it in a different way, but to assume that they won’t is not fair to people,” Patrick said.
Patrick is urging Falmouth to hire an independent consultant, “to do a more complete study of the existing literature and give cost comparisons.” He also wants the town to form a blue ribbon panel “made up of some of the world’s foremost scientists in the field that live and work in our town,” to review the work that has been done. He also urged town officials to contribute to the Barnstable County Health Department’s study of alternatives wastewater treatment technologies.
Chatham's rich flow of property tax revenues from second home owners -- who impose little in the way of extra costs on the town -- has enabled Town government to maintain a expensive lifestyle much more than it has kept property taxes low for resident taxpayers.
The fruits of this expensive lifestyle of Town government show up principally in two ways: extravagant building projects and unsustainable compensation arrangements with public unions.
The 22,000 square foot underutilized $10 million community center and the $17 million 40,000 square foot Town Hall annex to house a handful of town employees during working hours are current examples.
The most extravagant of all is just being launched now: a 100% townwide sewer system costing hundreds of millions of dollars. Everyone agrees that the chemical pollution of our ponds and embayments should be halted, but not everyone agrees such a massive undertaking is the only answer.
A review of the Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan does not yield convincing evidence that cost-effective alternatives, particularly those employing newer technologies, were -- or are being -- seriously considered.
Our neighboring town of Orleans, also considering a large sewer system, has engaged a third-party consultant to conduct a cost-effective analysis of its sewer plan and has already learned that a major part of the proposed system may not be needed at all. This process is ongoing under the auspices of a special citizen Wastewater Management Validation & Design Committee.
This peer review is being conducted by the Woods Hole Group, an environmental organization respected worldwide, that Chatham has employed in the past. Orleans is also monitoring the kinds of alternatives under review at the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve to save water and lessen the need for wastewater infrastructure.
Chatham should do the same. Spending on this project will stretch out over at least 20 years, so there will be plenty of opportunity to adopt new possibilities and save many millions of taxpayer dollars in doing so. Even Democratic Cape legislator Representative Matt Patrick thinks this can be done and it would be irresponsible not to explore every option.
The other area in which the Town government displays its extravagance is in staffing and compensation of personnel. In this regard, Chatham is not alone. Chatham, like many other cities and towns, is in the grip of public service unions whose contract demands relentlessly push up costs beyond what would be reasonable in the private sector. Iron-clad contracts are signed with unions promising compensation and benefits come hell or high water, regardless of economics or revenues or the interests of those who pay the bills.
These outmoded arrangements are finally getting national and state attention and need to be addressed at the local level as well. Chatham has several collective bargaining agreements, the principal ones being for school teachers, the police department and the fire department. The police contract has expired and is in negotiation, the fire department contract is in the second year (FY10) of a three-year contract and the schools contract ends in FY11.
The time to seek dramatic change at the town level has arrived. New union contracts cannot continue the rich promises of increases and benefits of the past. Cities and towns across the nation are looking for multi-year freezes in union contracts, merit increases based on performance instead of automatic income step increases, elimination of various benefits and shifting from pension plans to defined contribution plans.
This unacceptable situation was addressed by David Luberoff of Harvard's Rappaport Center recently:
[H]ealth insurance [cost] is just the tip of the iceberg. The high cost of fully funding pensions and other postretirement benefits will continue to stress local budgets. Local officials’ ability to make needed changes are greatly limited by an outdated civil service system that bases promotions on test-taking and collective bargaining agreements that make it easy to challenge any changes to existing routines. Why, for example, does every town need its own emergency dispatch system? Why do many localities have separate systems for police, fire, and emergency services? Yet any effort to change these practices runs into a host of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Local officials are not blameless. State law, for example, gives them the power to greatly lower health insurance costs by requiring retirees to enroll in Medicare, a federally funded program. But many localities have not yet taken advantage of this option, not least because of resistance from retirees.
Such changes are hard to achieve because relatively small groups of individuals strongly oppose them. But the status quo may not be an option.
Costs are going to keep rising, revenues will remain flat, and the demand for services will not decline. Local policy makers, therefore, will have no choice but to reexamine longstanding practices and assumptions.
The Town of Chatham did not come to grips with this unsustainable situation in its FY10 spending plan, granting salary increases of approximately 6% across the board when local taxpayers were experiencing devastating losses in their life saving and reductions in their incomes. There is a severe disconnect from reality when public employees are receiving such large pay increases when on average they already earn more than half the households in Chatham live on.
Chatham taxpayers area facing sharp increases in property taxes because of the debt service costs of extravagant infrastructure projects. It is therefore all the more urgent to hold the line on property taxes for all other Town spending. No increases in the property tax levy for FY11.
Barnstable residents rose up against the sudden push for an extension to the sewer system to get a few federal stimulus dollars and forced the town council to vote it down.
A good many condemned the assumption that sewers are the only way to clean up water pollution from nitrates. This is age-old technology that doesn't take account of emerging solutions which are far less expensive.
The same question troubles taxpayers in Chatham where the town is rushing ahead with a townwide sewer system that will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Is such a massive project necessary to cure the real problem of nitrate pollution?
The Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan does not satisfactorily demonstrate that all cost-effective solutions were considered. A sewer in some congested areas combined with other methods could perhaps work just as well at far less cost.
For example, did you know that oysters remove nitrates from salt water? Very efficient.
How much of pollution in Chatham waters comes from the booming seal population?
Orleans was dissatisfied with the proposed cost of its proposed sewer solution. So it ordered up a so-called peer review from a respected environmental organization. Its recently released study focused on cost-effective solutions and looking with a more critical eye at the pollution levels supposedly found. For example, the study found that Orleans' end of Pleasant Bay, contrary to prior findings, already met state standards and wouldn't required the sewering proposed.
Chatham's CWMP hasn't had a critical look by a third party. The selectmen should do what the Orleans selectmen did and order a third-party review of the plan developed by town officials with its sewercentric consultant Stearns & Wheeler. Orleans hired the respecte Woods Hole Group to do the peer review. Chatham has employed the Woods Hole Group in the past, so its competence is recognized by town officials. It should now hire some organization like WHG to do a peer review while proceeding with its planning work.
At a recent meeting of the Orleans Board of Selectmen, questions were raised about the Town's rushing ahead with constructing a $150 million townwide sewer system when new information has become available about water conditions and alternative technologies to traditional sewer systems are becoming available. A special committee appointed to review the work on the Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan and an outside consultant reported "uncertainties" that should be explored further before moving ahead with the town's sewer plan. The peer review was conducted by the world repsected Woods Hole Group.
The most startling disclosure was that nitrogen levels across the entire Pleasant Bay system are declining and some areas already meet state requirements. If Pleasant Bay continues to clean itself, this could result in a significant downsizing of the wastewater plan -- and huge savings for Orleans.
The Board of Selectmen want the answers before moving forward with the plan.
Over at the other end of the Cape State Representative Matt Patrick is thinking the same thing that many in Chatham are: To solve our environmental water pollution problems, do we need a full-fledged sewer system? Chatham's 20-year sewer project is estimated at a staggering $300 million cost. We all know how much big, long-term projects get more costly as the years roll by. Boston's Big Dig was estimated at $1.5-$3.5 billion in the early year and already has passed $15 billion in cost. It was conceived of in 1978, begun in about 1991 and more or less finished in 2007-08.
CCT will be looking into just the things Representative Patrick is talking about. While Chatham may become eligible for some low-interest or no-interest loans and some grants that may total 3-5% of the total cost, the big savings will be in finding alternatives that will do the job cost-effectively and burden taxpayers way less. If we can come up with less expensive alternatives, the state and all Cape towns will benefit as water pollution solutions become more affordable. Chatham is proud to be an environmental leader and should be even prouder to pioneer new ways of solving problems at less cost.Continue reading "THE CHALLENGE: SOLVING WATER POLLUTION PROBLEMS AFFORDABLY"
Can Chatham save $150 million in solving its water pollution problems? Some say that much and more. Ironically, to remedy environmental problems, many cities and towns are considering environmentally wasteful, harmful and unnecessarily costly methods that are two thousand years old.
Cape towns are throwing away money, and creating unsustainable solutions by ignoring the value in wastewater and solid waste, and not reusing much of the water pumped into homes and business, a panel of wastewater experts from the United States and Canada said at a forum hosted by the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
With Chatham poised to embark on the building of a traditional sewer based on centuries-old wastewater disposal design that will cost $300 million or more, is it too late to consider alternatives that may be far less costly and environmentally preferabler for Chatham? Do we have the time to find out?
This was a serious conference about a potential multi-billion cost to Cape Cod taxpayers. Chatham is leading the way with its $300-$600 million project. Can Chatham taxpayers benefit from this thinking with huge dollar savings?
Finding gold in Cape wastewater
By Doug Fraser
May 23, 2009 6:00 AM
FALMOUTH — The Cape will spend billions in the next few decades to keep nitrogen and other contaminants from fouling its coastal waters to comply with the federal Clean Water Act.
But Cape municipal officials heard yesterday that they might not be considering some of the most innovative solutions to deal with wastewater.
Cape towns are throwing away money, and creating unsustainable solutions by ignoring the value in wastewater and solid waste, and not reusing much of the water pumped into homes and business, a panel of wastewater experts from the United States and Canada said at a forum hosted by the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
"There is no such thing as waste in nature," said Ed Clerico, president of Alliance Environmental, of Hillsborough. The United States is still using a wastewater model, developed in Roman times, in which clean water enters a municipality, is used, and then is discarded as waste, he said.
Of the 1,200 gallons that each United States resident uses on an average day, only one gallon is for drinking, he said, while up to 10 gallons are used for each flush of a toilet. It takes money to buy the energy to pump and treat drinking water, and more energy to clean it and dispose of it, he said.
"What we are doing is not sustainable," said Clerico, who discounts large-scale wastewater treatment plants as the only solution.