Wastewater: 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.
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?
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 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.
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
firstname.lastname@example.org 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"
The Boston Globe reports that cities and towns are delaying financial decisions in light of budgetary uncertainties.
"I expect this to be very fluid for a couple more months," said Sam Tyler, executive director of the business-funded Boston Municipal Research Bureau.
"And it's not just Boston. Every city and town is in the same situation."
Not so, Sam. Chatham has sent its budget off to the printer for the May 11th Town Meeting. Unlike almost all other cities and towns Chatham's operations budget for FY10 rises almost 4% (about $1 million), boosted by generous wage hikes for all town employees. (The Selectmen ignored the Finance Committee's majority vote rejecting the budget.) The Selectmen did not make a single reduction of even one dollar in the spending proposed by the Town Manager.
For property taxpayers who did not build anything on their properties in FY09 the property tax levy will rise precisely 2 1/2. To avoid an override vote the selectmen approved taking money out of the Stabilization Fund and other reserves which are principally set aside for emergency use to pay for the spending in excess of the Propositon 2 1/2 limit. This is one of the maneuvers which drew fire from the Finance Committee.
A big surprise was unveiled at the special Selectmen's meeting on the vast Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan. It is possible for Chatham to get as much as $15 million in federal grant money to help pay for the system. Chatham will have to get to "shovel-ready" by February 17, 2010 and make a "commitment" for the project by June 30th of this year.
That means revising the article for the May town meeting from the $7.5 million for an odd part of the project (that we thought should be folded into the bigger project at the January 2010 meeting) to moving the whole project up to the May town meeting in hopes of getting that federal handout of $15 million. (It could be more or less, depending how many towns can scramble to qualify by February 17th.) About $60 million to approve at the May 11th/14 happenings.
Makes sense. Nothing like free money to change one’s thinking.
So the Selectmen voted to accelerate everything to see if the town can meet the February 17th deadline. Town meeting will have to approve. By town meeting time, the facts and numbers will be clear (charts still too optimistic counting on program monies that don't yet exist and a puzzlement why some areas are being done first rather than other areas that seem more critical), but it's worth every effort to see if the federal money can be captured.
There will have to be a major town effort to inform taxpayers of the implIcations for their tax bills. They will go up sharply to get the first $60 million or so underway. As we analyze the numbers, we will present our findings. The time is shorter than we would like, but taxpayers nonetheless need to be informed as the federal windfall is pursued.
There seem always to be strings with free money, but none were mentioned at the Selectmen's meeting. We'll watch out for them.
But, for the day, good news indeed?
Chatham's Board of Selectmen meet this afternoon. Here is the business agenda:
Operating Budget Ballot Question/Excess Levy Capacity W. Hinchey A
Affordable Housing Trust Fund Guidelines T. Whalen B
Committee Update – Land Bank Open Space Committee V. DiCristina C
Committee Update - Community Preservation Committee J. Kaar D
The agenda is singularly uninformative as to what is to be discussed about articles for the Annual Town Meeting on May 11th.
Discussion about the possibility of a surprise appearance of a wastewater action article on the May 11th agenda arose for the first time at last week's Selectmen's meeting on March 3rd, but ended inconclusively when the Selectmen questioned what the money being sought ($7.5 million bond authorization) was to be used for. That discussion may continue this afternoon.
A significant amount of that money -- about $3 million -- is for the $17 million PD/Annex project that may be frozen by taxpayers at the ATM due to the financial crisis.
Indeed, it is astonishing that the actual cost of the PD/Annex project is now $20 million, when many thought $17 million was excessive. That the Town wants to spend $20 million for that project right now when -- sources tell us -- it is planning to borrow $55 million for the upgrade and expansion of the Wastewater Treatment Facility in the next few months is astounding.
It only became clear for the first time last week to regular observers of the Selectmen's meetings that the Town intended to start the ball rolling on the entire Comprehensive Wastewater Management Project at the May 11th Annual Town Meeting with a bond authorization request -- to be followed by a special Town Meeting in January for another bond request for $39 million.
The Town Manager presented a few financial slides so that the Selectmen could decide whether to fund the CWMP solely by way of the property tax or to fund 25% by way of betterments. The Selectmen decided on 100% property tax funding. From the material presented it was impossible to gauge the property tax impact in the near, intermediate or long term.
Chatham Concerned Taxpayers immediately took the floor to request of Chairman Summers that all of the data relating to the construction, spending and bonding schedule be made available. He directed the town officials to supply it promptly.
CCT followed up with a detailed request on March 5th by email to Town Manager Hinchey and Director of Environment & Health Duncanson. Included in the request were requests for electronic copies of the Town Manager's presentation to the Selectmen on March 3rd and a presentation by Dr. Duncanson to the Chatham Retired Men's Club on February 20th. Thus far, the only materials that have been delivered are paper copies of the presentations, which are not a proper response to our request. (A copy of that email is reproduced below.)
The point made in our CCT Alert yesterday is the important one: It is not right that with only two months remaining until the May 11th Town Meeting details of the intended financing and assessment on property taxpayers have not been made available. For a project of this consequence a great deal of lead time should be provided to taxpayers so they can evaluate the consequences for them. Even in good times, this should be done. In times like these, when taxpayers are conserving dollars wherever they can, it is doubly so.
Since town officials are contemplating a special town meeting in January for a much larger bond authorization, this matter should be deferred to that Town Meeting. The only amounts that bear directly on the Wastewater Treatment Facility are for design work, some $1.7 million; if anything is to be authorized at the May 11th meeting, at most it should be that.
By presenting the project at the January special town meeting, town officials will have adequate time to make detailed disclosure of construction, spending and bonding schedules and related information and taxpayers and all others concerned will have a proper chance to evaluate the financial and other aspects of the program that will impact them.
For CCT's detailed information request made by email, click on the entry below.Continue reading "SELECTMEN'S MEETING TODAY AT 4: DON'T BLINDSIDE THE TAXPAYERS"
The economy of the United States is contracting and experiencing deflation, the stock market is at 1996 levels and unemployment has reached 8%. The Wall Street Journal reports today that credit markets are seizing up again. More and more it is beginning to look as if this recession, depression, whatever one calls it, is still deepening and some are now saying it could be 2012 before the nation comes out it. This is no time for laying additional financial burdens on the taxpayer.
Nonetheless, the Town of Chatham is fashioning a warrant for voters to approve at the May 11th Town Meeting and the May 14th Election that will raise property taxes now, in the immediate future and for years to come.
CCT’s position is simple and straightforward. “Not Now.” While taxpayers, particularly the elderly and retired, have suffered and are suffering losses in savings and income, this is no time to impose additional financial burdens on them. Indeed, even a small tax cut would be a proper response to the times.
Here is the situation as it stands now with two months to go to Town Meeting:
The operating budget that is to be presented to Town Meeting has a deficit in excess of $700,000 that the town leaders propose should be cured by a property tax increase. Most of that deficit is for pay raises ranging as high as 6 and 7% for Chatham’s well-compensated public employees. While unions and other employees in other cities and towns are agreeing to freezes on compensation at various levels, that is not the case in Chatham. A special vote will be needed to fund the budget as it stands. Voters can say no.
Free cash that could be saved ($1.2 million) as a buffer for the hard times ahead in fiscal years 2010 and 2011 is to be spent for a number of small capital projects. This has been the practice in the past. But are they really essential, are they for emergencies? Is this wise? Voters have a say on this, too.
Stabilization Fund monies (several hundreds of thousands of dollars) that are accumulated (left over from property taxes levied in earlier years) for fiscal emergencies are being used to keep the school budget intact, pay for fiscal 2009 overruns in police and fire overtime and other what seem to be non-emergency spending. Voters have a say here as well.
But that’s not all.
On the capital side, the ten year planning of the wastewater system is suddenly to become a live capital project, with the first spending of what may be as much as $270 million (2007 estimates) getting underway with votes at Town Meeting and the Town Election this May!
The Town should have put out all the financial information, including the construction, spending and sale of bonds schedule a long time ago and not just two months before Town Meeting. That’s just not right.
Because of the long planning period, relatively few citizens have paid much attention, feeling it’s certainly “a good thing,” but probably thinking they would never have a chance to use it let alone be asked to pay for it. Now, with just two months before Town Meeting, it’s a go? In this time of economic distress?
Last Tuesday, for the very first time, there was a public presentation of a few graphs to the Selectmen to help them decide if the sewer would be paid for by the property tax alone or with a 25% contribution from betterments. (Most sewer projects in Massachusetts are funded with up to 100% in betterments.) The Selectmen quickly decided the cost would all be on the property tax.
Considering that the project is hugely expensive, involves a great deal of underground work the conditions of which are not fully known and has a 20-year time frame, it certainly seems taxpayers should have more time than two months to become fully informed of the impact of the costs on their properties before being asked to embark on the project, Considering also that the town leaders are planning a special town meeting for January for authorization of some $40 million more in additional spending on the wastewater project, isn’t it the better course to defer all spending decisions to the January Town Meeting so that taxpayers will have the time to learn what they are being asked to vote on?
These are 2007 figures. The town is going to be looking for about $50 million in bonding authority between the May and January town meetings. That would raise Chatham’s outstanding bonds to about $80 million, not counting interest, more than doubling the bonds now outstanding. (There’s another $21 million authorized but not sold; $17 million is for the PD/Annex project, which should go into deep freeze for now.)
We have heard from non-residents who want everything to go forward immediately and be finished in eight years. Of course, that can’t happen. For the design work about two years will be required, we are told. We do not know how long the enlargement of the treatment facility will take or when the collection system expansion will begin. All told, Phase 1 is supposed to take 20 years, nine months a year, no activity during peak summer season.
The economy will turn up at some point and that is the time for new capital spending.
The Town should be tightening the proverbial belt as taxpayers are doing. The Town should not be looking for taxpayers to fund operational deficits or to authorize a major though admittedly beneficial non-emergency project without time for a thorough vetting of the spending and taxing plans.
As we have noted before, we are not opposed to the wastewater plan; we don’t have any relevant expertise. It’s a very big and important project and we believe taxpayers should have full opportunity to study and discuss the fiscal impacts on them before being asked to vote.
“Not now” is what seems to make the most sense. Resident taxpayers need time.
One can't stay in the dumps long because, before you know it, more big issues loom.
For those who haven't been paying that much attention, Chatham is considering building an old-time sewer system that will cost over $300 million. For those who thought the Community Center was a Taj Mahal, we can't imagine what you would compare this gigantically costly system to.
Today the proponents start getting serious at the Selectmen's Meeting at 4:
Annual Town Meeting Warrant Articles
• Betterment Discussion W. Hinchey
• Article 14 – Wastewater R. Duncanson
Ballot Question – Wastewater R. Duncanson
The problem of nitrogen infiltration in embayments and other bodies of water from wastewater and other sources has apparently been under study for years. Other Cape towns are looking at similar problems.
What's unclear is how much study has gone into less expensive solutions using state-of-the-art technology to deal with the problem. It's also not clear to what extent taxpayers are fully aware of the costs involved. For each household they have to be staggering. Some sense of the costs per taxpayer and water user may be conveyed at today's meeting.
But the beginning is at hand. Town Manager Hinchey will lay out his strategy at today's Selectmen's Meeting. He apparently intends to start small with a bond issue for just a few million dollars, then another one for a larger amount somewhat later on. Before you know it, you're committed to this huge system and its costs.
There clearly is a problem. Is this the most cost-effective solution? Is the system being recommended aimed only at dealing with environmental problems or are there other goals involved?
Now that the spending of real money is at hand, it's time to pay attention.
Town Meeting in May may be the only time taxpayers will have a real chance to examine the costs and alternatives and purposes of this very expensive system before voting for the first round of bond financing.
Attend or watch the Selectmen's Meeting at 4 at Town Hall or Channel 18.