Wastewater: 2010 Archives
Do Chatham and other Cape Cod towns really need Big City Sewers for healthy coastal waters?
A study by a very qualified group of Orleans scientists and engineers of nitrogen contribution to Pleasant Bay shows that all the septic systems ringing the bay only contribute 1% to the total nitrogen in the bay. See the attached summary of the report, p. 8, in particular.
Spending hundreds of millions on centralized sewer systems in Orleans, Harwich and Chatham will therefore in all likelihood have no effect on Pleasant Bay water quality, but a devastating effect on town budgets. What if similar testing in other Cape embayments also show that the septic nitrogen contribution to total nitrogen is miniscule?
The easy assumption that too much nitrogen in coastal waters is the source of all the ills it is blamed for has never really been proven. It now also appears to be the case that septic nitrogen may be such a minor contributing factor that spending billions on the Cape for centralized sewer systems could be a massive waste of precious dollars, be they from property taxes or sewer fees.
Consequently, the Board of Selectmen of Orleans has now asked all Cape Cod towns to join it in asking the National Academy of Sciences to conduct an objective "peer review" of the science behind the findings and recommendations of the Massachusetts Estuaries Project (MEP) commissioned by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and put forward by the DEP as the baseline of what is required of each town to make its waters healthy. Read the letter: Orleans selectmen letter for peer review.pdf
It is an amazing fact that this methodology, which may lead to expenditures of as much as ten billion dollars for Cape towns, has never been independently peer reviewed. The DEP so far has refused to allow that, but that position cannot stand. The towns and their taxpayers who will be responsible for paying the bills have a right to demand validation of what they are being told is what needs to be done.
So far, seven or eight of the 15 Cape towns have agreed to join with Orleans. Responses from others are being awaited, including Chatham.
Chatham Concerned Taxpayers has urged the Chatham selectmen to join with Orleans and the other towns. Click here to read our letter: CCT ChSel July 6 2010.pdf here
Chatham alone among Cape towns has embarked on a centralized sewer system plan developed by its Town Manager for all watersheds said to be contributing septic nitrogen to coastal waters. This was done without questioning the state numbers, without testing the state's conclusions first in at least one seemingly troubled area ("hot spot"), without evaluating alternative, modern technology that removes septic and groundwater nitrogen cheaper, faster and better, and without obtaining a town meeting vote on the Town Manager's plan, which could cost property taxpayers close to if not more than half a billion dollars, depressing all other spending for operations and capital projects for decades. " How could this have happened?", one might well ask.
Nonetheless, it is not too late for the Chatham selectmen to join in the request for a peer review. The best way to assure taxpayers that town officials aren't wasting their money is to get an objective review of the science behind the state's numbers.
Since the Town Manager's plan is to pipe all contributing watersheds in one coordinated effort (110 miles of sewer piping) over 20 years, it could be 25 years, according to Stearns & Wheler and DEP, before improvement, if any, would be seen.
Rather than spend half a billion dollars first and then find out the massive spending has done nothing to improve bay waters, it is, to say the least, prudent to get an objective review of the basis for the whole plan.
While the National Academy of Sciences is conducting the peer review, the town can conduct an objective evaluation of modern technology and systems that are now available that can remove nitrogen from septic systems and groundwater far more efficiently, far less expensively and with far quicker results (some immediate) than the centralized system the Town Manager has chosen. If the NAS confirms the MEP/DEP science, then a plan, taking into account all available technology options, including these modern, less expensive ones, can be voted on by a fully informed town meeting and implemented. And results will be known a lot sooner than 25 years from now.
CCT has determined, based on a review of town records, that the strategy for this nitrogen removal project engineered by Town Manager Hinchey and Director of Health & Environment Duncanson had as a key component NEVER to put the full Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan (CWMP) project calling for a big city centralized sewer system before a town meeting for a vote. Their decision to do this was no doubt because of the huge cost which they did not want taxpayers to focus on, to say nothing of the disruption caused over 20 years of construction. They wanted to avoid the question that would naturally arise, "Can't this problem be solved less expensively?"
Records of the Citizens Advisory Committee from 2007 had Duncanson telling CAC members that the full CWMP would never be put before a town meetng. CAC members had wondered whether such an expensive plan could get through town meeting. Apparently at least some CAC members questioned that strategy, so Nathan Weeks of Stearns & Wheler was brought into the next meeting to assure CAC members that some towns did it one way, some another, so the "piecemeal" approach would be just fine. So, innocuous-seeming bits and pieces would be put before successive town meetings (e.g., funds for determining the extent of nitrogen pollution and how much needed to be removed) until some key vote by an unknowing and uninformed town meeting, would become the point from which there would be no turning back.
Director of Health & Environment Duncanson considers the Article 14 vote at the 2009 Annual Town Meeting (ATM) to be that point of no return for proceeding with the entire CWMP that would cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. We know that because he told state bureaucrats that in an official document this year.
What voter knew that? If Duncanson is right, how were the voters tricked into in effect voting for the entire CWMP calling for expenditures of $240 million plus interest and inflation, 110 miles of sewer piping, 88 pump stations and more than a thousand seven-foot tall grinder pumps for the 4000+ properties to be sewered?
CCT's investigation has shown that false information was provided in the 2000 ATM Warrant and what the SEC calls "misrepresentation by omission" occurred. Material information that is important in decision-making was withheld from the Warrant.
Town officials did not disclose in the Warrant or in oral discussion (or in any official document CCT has seen) that their plan was immediately, in two years, to enlarge the capacity of the wastewater treatment plant to its 20-year capacity; what that means is for the plant to operate efficiently sewer piping of the entire planned area would have to be installed for it to operate efficiently and to remove the nitrogen from the wastewater it is supposed to. In other words, town meeting voters would be forced to vote for more sewer expansion at subsequent town meetings for the entire $240 million plan, whether they wanted to or not. So voters and taxpayers would be stuck. According to engineers with whom we have consulted, there could be no turning back without substantial additional cost to unwind much of the enlargement which had been done.
CCT formally called these misrepresentations to the attention of the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affiars. The misrepresentation that everyone can see for himself is on pp. 105-106 of the Warrant. Charts provided to show projected debt service costs for the sewer in the nature of bar graphs understated the 2007 $240 million principal lcost estimate of Stearns & Wheler by one-third. In addition, no interest or inflation was included in the bar graphs for the decades of financing and repayment. At that time and now there is no such thing as zero interest loans.
As a consequence, the vertical bar graphs supposely showing the impact of sewer financing and repayment over decades should have been 2.7 times taller than were shown. These falsely short bar graphs were compared to bar graphs representing current debt service to make it appear that the sewer costs would not be too bad for taxpayers. In fact, they should have been almost three times as tall as was shown.
The Secretary stated that their regulatory process had been completed and that the misrepresentations at town meeting were outside their regulatory review process, even though the misrepresentations with respect to that town meeting vote were the single most important step in advancing the sewer project from the planning stage to implementation. In other words, the Secretary decided to ignore misrepresentations that, if deliberate, are fraudulent, even though they were the key step moving the CWMP from planning into implementation. Our conclusion is that the misrepresentation was deliberate.
UPDATE: Additional investigation has revealed that the same misrepresentation was made to the Board of Selectmen earlier at its meeting of March 17, 2009, thus strengthening the case for this being a deliberate understatement and therefore misrepresentation of the costs of the CWMP.
Things are downright scary. The nation is stalled in a deep recession and joblessness is growing. More people are fearing they will be worse off in the future than ever before.
Yet what is Chatham doing? Maintaining its growth in town spending but shoving what it couldn't fund this year into next year's budget, when the situation will be just as bad, but made worse by this doubling up of deferred costs. On top of that it has launched a 20-year sewer construction program that will drive the town's debt from about $30 million to over $300 million! is this the time for a debt explosion?
Does Chatham have to do the sewer now? No.
Is there a rush to clean up the waters? No. Under the town's program no improvements are expected till 25 years or so when the project is finished. Not only that, Chatham is a guinea pig for the state program's proposed solution for reducing nitrogen, which might not even show any improvement in coastal waters. For the Town Manager to embark upon a total plan for the town costing hundreds of millions of property tax dollars rather than by proceeding incrementally to test out the state's proposed solution in one or two hot spots first is inane.
Can any government agency force Chatham to act now? No. Since this is an unfunded mandate, no government agency can force Chatham to act against its interests.
Will the Conservation Law Foundation sue Chatham? No. Chatham is so far ahead of all other towns in its planning it's the last town CLF would sue.
Will Chatham wind up lagging behind other Cape towns in addressing the problem of excess nitrogen in bay waters? No. Chatham is years ahead of the 13 other Cape towns that have excess nitrogen problems. Some of them are exploring less expensive and better environmental alternatives, others are hoping for state or federal subsidy assistance and some just do not consider the problem a priority in light of their tight budgets and other demands.
More sensibly, Orleans and other towns first want to be satisifed that the plan developed by the state DEP with the scientists in Dartmouth will do the job. For years they've demanded a peer review of the science, which the state and the scientists have refused to allow. Now that demand is growing insistent. Why spend billions for something that might not do the job? It makes sense to make sure it works before committing to such massive expenditures.
When did Chatham town meeting vote to approve a sewer program costing $300-$400-$500 million? It never has. The town manager pushed a vote through town meeting in May 2009 for an upgrade of the treatment plant but didn't tell anybody the upgrade would build the treatment plant out to its planned 20-year capacity in just two years. Instead of just enlarging the treatment plant to handle the few hundred properties being added to the existing system, the Town Manager authoritzed an enlargement for ten times as much, enough to process all the presumably affected watersheds in town. As a consequence, any engineer will tell you taxpayers will be forced to fund the rest of the sewer pipe extension program or else have a malfunctioning, cost-inefficient and sub-performance treatment plant. To convince town meeting members the costs would not be too onerous, the town manager provided town meeting members with false numbers reflected in scaled down bar graphs which were supposed to show what the real costs would look like.
Should Chatham taxpayers be worried about what the economic bad news looks like for Chatham as well as the nation? Absolutely. Savings, dividends and interest payments for Chatham households are all down. Huge tax hikes at the federal level beginning next year are a certainty, so, no matter what, incomes will be slashed. States are cutting local aid and raising taxes as well. This is a time for caution.
What should Chatham do? Two major things need to be done to get the spending situation under control: First, renegotiate public union contracts to reflect the reality of the financial situation of Chatham homeowners. Automatic built-in increases should be a thing of the past. The Town Manager has refused to do this. Second, revise the capacity plans for the treatment plant expansion downward so it will handle efficiently and effectively the properties now on the system and those being added with the $20 million for piping voted at the May 2009 town meeting. Then stop and join Orleans and other Cape towns in demanding a peer review of the state's science. During that review period, objectively and fairly examine the alternatives to addressing the nitrogen removal (however it needs to be done) less expensively and hopefully less disruptively. (The EPA and national environmental organizations favor alternatives such as clusters as better environmental choices.) Following the peer review and its conclusions and the examination of less expensive and disruptive alternatives , the entire resulting plan should be put before a fully informed town meeting or a vote.
Here's a knowledgeable observer's pessimistic view of the next few years.
America’s jobless picture is alarmingly bleak
By Mort Zuckerman in Financial Times
June 7, 2010
We are drifting. We take comfort in bits of good news, but we are in dangerous waters; the Great Recession is being starkly revealed as a global crisis with the US, the traditional engine of recovery, sputtering on every cylinder. The US government responded with dramatic financial support by transferring money to the household sector. But outside of these transfers the personal income of Americans is still declining; the residential market remains stagnant at best; consumer growth is nominal. The only real energy in the economy has come from the cessation of inventory liquidation, which is now the main factor in rising industrial output and any modest improvement in the economy.Continue reading "CHATHAM'S MAD SPENDING BINGE"
There has been a great deal of confusion about what the MINIMUM likely costs of the centralized sewer that Town Manager Hinchey has chosen for Chatham will be.
Most of the confusion was created by Mr. Hinchey's presentation of 47 PowerPoint slides at a selectmen's meeting on February 23rd and compounded by a "sewer cost calculator" put on the town website using the same misleading data. A great deal of irrelevant information was included in the slideshow which added to the confusion.
What taxpayers want to know is what costs we are being committed to. Mr. Hinchey did not answer that key question.
What numbers Mr. Hinchey' said the centralized sewer would cost are substantially less than what Chatham Concerned Taxpayers estimate the MINIMUM estimated taxpayer costs will be. The difference is almost $200 million. CCT has prepared a simple chart to show what costs Mr. Hinchey left out or got wrong. Click on the chart to enlarge it.
What do these staggering costs mean for property owners who are being sewered and those who are not?
Again, CCT has prepared an easy-to-read chart so any property owner can calculate what his MINIMUM costs are likely to be. Click on chart to enlarge.
We say MINIMUM projected costs because long-term projects such as these always run into "unforeseen" costs. Boston's Big Dig's costs grew from about $2 billion to about $20 billion, as our retired accounting expert warned us.
Sewer property taxes will rise steadily over the next 20 years, stay high for ten years and then begin a slow decline for the last 20 years of financing. They will be a burden on town budgets and needed capital projects for five decades.
The tragedy for Chatham taxpayers is that cleaning up Chatham's coastal waters of the excess nitrogen that is blamed for deteriorating water quality can be done for far less cost than the massive overkill of a Big City Sewer.
No less an authority than the federal Environmental Protection Agency says alternatives such as cluster systems can save taxpayers many, many tens of millions of dollars. Says the EPA:
Cluster systems can achieve significant economies of scale to provide high levels of treatment at costs significantly less (25 percent to 50 percent) than centralized sewer systems.
EPA also notes (p.6-7, EPA publication cited above) that cluster systems used with permeable reactive barriers (such as are now being proposed by Lombardo Associates in Falmouth and Mashpee) placed at water's edge to intercept groundwater plumes can reduce costs even more by removing nitrogen from all sources, including fertilizers and animal waste. Cluster systems also lend themselves to an incremental approach, to test out the state-supplied but untested solutions to see if indeed they work before investing hundreds of millions of dollars.
There is one taxpayer cost that is usually not mentioned, but is important. With a centralized sewer system, taxpayers' investments in acceptably functioning septic systems will be destroyed. Chatham homeowners collectively stand to "lose" more than $50 million they have already spent.
In Chatham's case, instead of a half billion project, it could be a $250 million project or less, still expensive but substantially less of a burden on town budgets and taxpayers over the next five decades. Cluster systems with permeable reactive barriers can do the job cheaper, better and faster without tearing up 110 miles of streets and installing 88 large pump stations and thousands of seven-foot high grinder pumps.
These other options are readily available to Chatham, but the Town Manager has been immovable in his opposition to considering them. Sadly for taxpayers, the selectmen have agreed to support the Town Manager's opposition, refusing even to conduct an objective evaluation of such alternatives as Falmouth and Mashpee are now doing.
The people who will pay for such intransigence are Chatham's taxpayers. The environment will suffer as well. Many fear that upping the flow of treated sewage from 100,000 gallons a day to 2 million gallons a day will overwhelm Cockle Cove Creek and result in serious damage to the marsh, Buck's Creek and Sulphur Springs.
Others fear that Chatham will become a hub for wastewater from Harwich, Orleans and Brewster as Dr. Duncanson envisioned at a selectmen's meeting in January.
Chatham is on the wrong track because it appears that Town Manager Hinchey decided years ago he wanted a regular, old-fashioned Big City Sewer in Chatham. Developments in nitrogen removal that are being evaluated and installed elsewhere in Barnstable County and in other coastal communities along the East Coast and the West Coast are being ignored.
Whether we like it or not, Chatham taxpayers seem destined to spend at least half a billion dollars for a centralized sewer that isn't needed to clean Chatham's waters and may well become to be seen as the White Elephant of Cape Cod.
Unfortunately, the White Elephant is now being railroaded into Chatham. The train is not departing.
The least we can do to acknowledge the contribution of Town Manager Hinchey is to call this "The Hinchey Memorial Sewer." We will remember him when he's gone for the costs he left behind....
A retired executive now living on the Cape but not in Chatham who spent years professionally concerned about municipal projects and their costs has sent us two warnings that we thought should be shared with you.
One warning came several weeks ago and one just a day or two ago after state bureaucrats defended their review process of this hugely expensive, wasteful, unnecessary, environmentally damaging centralized sewer project. Excess nitrogen that detracts from the health of Chatham's coastal waters can be removed at far less cost and in an environmentally superior manner by alternative means which are in common use throughout the United States and are preferred by the EPA, national environmental organizations such as Clean Water Action and the Clean Water Fund and the Massachusetts Conservation Law Foundation.
So what is our retired accounting executive warning Chatham taxpayers about? Here are the two messages we referred to:
I have been retired for several years but continue on as a consultant in the preparation of projected capital expenditure projects for government. After graduating from Yale University I accepted a position with one of the "big six" accounting firms in New York City. I spend a great deal of time in the field and can assure you that a project such as the one proposed is without doubt is an impossibility to fund through taxpayer contribution in a town such as the size of Chatham, or anywhere for that matter With five to six thousand property's sharing the potential cost in the billions, it is totally impossible through taxation without bankrupting every property owner. When towns such as Chatham propose to "sell" to taxpayers such a project, the figure they throw out is the START PRICE TAG as I often liked to say. What is meant by that is the price such as Chatham is purporting of $300 million is if the project started today and finished tomorrow. What officials don't want you to know is the projections of costs over years of long term capital expenditure projects. As an example, I followed a project a year ago which was a municipal water system funded in 2007 and the costs alone of piping and concrete had increased 44% in the course of one year as the result of the reconstruction of Iraq and materials were being shipped there and became a premium price here in America. The increases over a project with a duration of 20-25 years will increase several hundred percent, and that may be a conservative estimate in today's economy. The costs associated with material increase's, job order changes, unforeseen job problems, contractual labor costs, weather interruption costs, equipment costs, security and police details, interruption of business and industry, and the enormous costs associated with repaving streets and private property are only a few of the many considerations that go into the overall total project cost estimates. Another area monetarily is the interest on loans and notes which can run in the millions on a project such as this.
I would suggest you study the costs associated with the "Central Artery Project" also known as the "Big Dig." This has increased 1,000 % from 2.3 billion to at last count is projected at 23 billion.
There have been many of these same projects that have ended unfinished as the result of no more funds were available or taxation ran amuck and municipalities folded up the projects. The sad result was huge wasteful taxpayer spending that was literally flushed down the toilet.
It is my opinion that NO MUNICIPALITY today can undertake such a project at the cost of such HUGE TAXATION to support. Frankly, it is an impossibility.
Many of these projects are presented by overzealous, power hungry and in many cases for monetary gain by corrupt officials. Many are unwarranted with absolutely border line justification or no justification at all. Many are unscientifically proven to be needed and many are just pie in the sky outrageous spending of taxpayer money.
I only hope that this information is helpful in advising the taxpayers of Chatham of what exactly they are getting themselves into, and give them insight into the huge taxation required to fund. It also appears that this project has not been justified and alternatives are in the wings.
After the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs (speaking through Ms. McDevitt) brushed aside CCT’s complaints about the faulty bureaucratic review process, he wrote CCT again:
To the good people of Chatham and its Concerned Taxpayer Group :
Don't abandon your fight to eliminate this wasteful spending and taxation.
The key now is to get the vote out and put your candidates in office, replace the town manager, file a class action suit against the woman whose final approval continued this project and repeal the town's decision at town meeting to stop this total waste of taxpayer money.
Mark your calendar and present tax bills to follow the money and severe increase in your tax bills over the duration of this outrageous unnecessary spending and taxation.
If not successful in putting a stop to this project, it will cost 10 times the cost that was projected by these irresponsible people in power. Hold them personally and financially responsible in the future.
Don't kid yourself, to complete this over the next 20 years the cost your organization projected will also grow from half a billion to between four and five billion. This equates to somewhere close to half a million per property.
Taxes will escalate to an unsustainable amount each year as properties will decline significantly in value and there will be no purchasers as owners will not be capable of selling due to such a huge tax burden. People will then walk away to foreclosure and town coffers will drain to bankruptcy.
Please post and keep this to refer to over the years as chaos will prevail as more and more taxpayers will realize too late to what happened to Chatham in early 2010, when irresponsible people in power started the demise of the beautiful town of Chatham.
Thanks for your concern.
We should heed his messages.
Following what seemed to be a deliberately confusing presentation at the citizens forum on February 23, 2010 by the Town Manager, CCT analyzed his presentation and confirmed our initial impression that he had failed entirely to tell taxpayers how much his centralized sewer plan would cost taxpayers.
The Town Manager has never given taxpayers realistic projections of what this needlessly expensive centralized sewer project will cost them. This presentation was all about how town accounting can be used to make more spending look like less.
What's the reason for this project? The motivation is to rid Chatham's coastal waters of the excess nitrogen that is blamed for unhealthy waters. While there are much less expensive ways to do this, the Town Manager and the Director of Health & Environment chose a centralized sewer system recommended by its consultant Stearns & Wheler, which is an expert in, guess what? Big City centralized sewer systems.
Taking into account the few new pieces of information the Town Manager supplied, CCT has developed and presents below a simple chart that provides the needed information to taxpayers on what this centralized sewer system will cost them.
The numbers really aren't complicated, though the Town Manager tried to make them appear so. There is construction estimated in 2007 numbers (as if all the work was done in one day) at $210 million and $30 million to pay for the operations during construction of this massively intrusive sewer project over a 20-year period.
Money is borrowed from the state for 20 or 30 years. The town has chosen 30 years for which the interest rate is about 2.83%, not 2% as shown in the Town Manager's charts. Connection costs for those forced to connect average $6,500, using town officials' estimate. About two-thirds of the town's properties will be forced to connect, some 4,386 properties. After the construction period annual maintenance charges of $400 will be levied on those connected. All numbers are adjusted for inflation at 3% a year. Voila! The numbers:
Why 20-year costs? Well, we all think or hope we'll live for this period. Also, the Director of Health & Environment told the Cape Cod Times in December that over a 20-year period a taxpayer getting sewered would only pay $175 a year on average or $3,500 for the 20 years.
Since the connection charge average cost is $6,500, his number is ridiculous as well as false. Our chart also identifies the total costs to taxpayers with various assessments over the 50 years of financing.
A copy of the spreadsheet from which this table was derived can be viewed by clicking on the link below:
Cleaning up Chatham's coastal waters can be done for far less money than with the big city sewer the Town Manager and the Director of Health & Environment have been advocating.
These other ways are endorsed by national and state environmental organizations as better for the environment. They cause far less disruption to community life. They don't disturb and drain the water table as the centralized sewer does. They deliver results in far less time. They will not overload Cockle Cove Creek, turning it into an open ditch flooded with treated wastewater. With neighborhood cluster systems, Chatham won't become the Sewer Hub for the Lower Cape, as the Director of Health & Environment rhapsodically envisioned at a recent selectmen's meeting.
What's best for the environment and best for the taxpayer is not being done.
The Town Manager's plan wastes hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money with the hugely expensive centralized sewer plan that many taxpayers are rejecting in Falmouth, Mashpee and Orleans. Will the selectmen save the taxpayers or commit them to decades of unnecessary property taxpayer costs?
The Town Manager plan will cost close to half a billion dollars. Shouldn't everyone want to see if cleaning up the coastal bays of Chatham can be done for half the cost? Apparently everyone does except for the Town Manager, the Director of Health & Environment and the Selectmen and their usual allies.
The selectmen have closed down all discussion of their hugely expensive sewer project at selectmen's meetings. This Gulag-like denial of free speech is unprecedented in Chatham's history, as far as we know. Those who support what the selectmen want to hear are given unlimited talk time. Mention cheaper alternatives to clean up Chatham waters and the selectmen chairman gavels the speaker into silence.
The selectmen have denied taxpayers access to the town's television channel so they can inform citizens of the environmentally better and less expensive choices that taxpayers have. The selectmen need to abandon their devotion to yesterday's technology and open their eyes to what modern methods can do for the environment and the taxpayer's pocketbook. What blinds them?
A fully informed town meeting should vote on a final plan before it is implemented. However, it appears that the selectmen intend to deny taxpayers that vote as they are now denying them the opportunity to speak out at selectmen's meetings for less expensive alternatives that are environmentally superior.
The responsibility for this wasteful spending, therefore, will rest solely on their shoulders after the Town Manager moves on to his next assignment. Ten years is more than enough for someone in that position.
Town officials are fighting to spend taxpayer money on a project they like but refuse to tell citizens why they haven't tried harder to look at far cheaper alternatives and why they are rushing to start construction when there is no urgency. Some taxpayers have concluded that the Town Manager wants to present taxpayers with a fait accompli, that is, to move the project so far along there will be no turning back or shifting to less costly alternatives.
The big unanswered question is why they are so uninterested in looking into ways of saving taxpayer money. The selectmen have a fiduciary duty to spend taxpayer money wisely and they are not discharging that duty. But can they buck the Town Manager?
COME TO CCT'S TAXPAYER EMERGENCY PLANNING MEETING, FRIDAY, JANUARY 22, 2010, 8:30 A.M., CHATHAM COMMUNITY CENTER
ELAINE GIBBS WILL TELL YOU WHAT YOU HAVEN'T BEEN TOLD.
THIS IS YOUR MONEY. YOU CAN DO THE JOB FOR FAR LESS.
Your town officials are buying for you the most expensive big city centralized sewer system (like Boston’s) that taxpayers of other Cape towns don’t want because it costs too much.
There is a catch: You are the ones who have to pay for their “Grand Plan” with your property taxes. The Grand Plan will cost half a billion dollars ($500,000,000) at least, but since it will be payable over 50 years your kids and grandkids will have to kick in, too. This is the most expensive project in the history of the town.
You deserve to know the facts and to have the chance to vote on the plan. But you may not know the facts till it’s too late and you may never get the chance to vote on it.
Chatham Concerned Taxpayers (CCT) has repeatedly urged town officials to evaluate alternatives that can clean the nitrogen from our coastal waters for 25% to 50% less cost, but their attitude was, “No, thanks. We aren’t interested in checking out savings for taxpayers. We deserve the best, we can afford it. It’s the Chatham way. Go away.” No to savings of $100-$250 million?
Town officials apparently have decided not to put their Grand Plan to a town meeting vote or to let taxpayers know about the availability of less expensive alternatives or even how much they will have to pay for their Grand Plan. Therefore, as a start, CCT has done the calculations presented in the table below (numbers rounded to zero) so you can determine what your costs will be if town officials go forward with their Grand Plan. (Supporting data is elswhere on this website.)
Just find your assessment value in the left column and read across. Why 20 years? Optimists that we are, we all think we’ll live that long. We once again ask town officials to publish their detailed taxpayer cost estimates since the only information about the cost of the Grand Plan the public has seen is Dr. Robert Duncanson’s assertion printed in the Cape Cod Times of December 7, 2009 that the average property owner would only pay $3,500 over 20 years for the sewer at an average yearly cost of $175. That isn’t possible. The town’s estimate of the average charge for a property owner to connect to the sewer system is $6,500, so Dr. Duncanson’s $3,500 doesn’t even pay for that, let alone cover even a nickel of the property tax bill for the half billion dollar sewer. CCT believes the estimates set forth below are, if anything, understated.
WE MUST ACT NOW BECAUSE TOWN OFFICIALS ARE PLANNING TO EXECUTE CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTS AND START DIGGING ANY DAY NOW BEFORE YOU KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENING. ALL OF THIS HAS BEEN GOING ON UNDER THE RADAR.
If you want town officials to seriously evaluate far less expensive ways to clean Chatham’s waters, WE MUST ACT NOW. Mashpee is currently evaluating a low cost alternative that it hopes will save it $300 million over the $550 million cost estimate for a Chatham-type centralized sewer. Falmouth is checking out less expensive alternatives, so is Orleans and Dennis plans to, also.
Chatham is the only Cape town not bothering to look at saving huge taxpayer dollars with alternative strategies but is rushing ahead with a hugely expensive conventional centralized sewer that is likely to be obsolete before it is finished, taking into account the explosion of “green” technology that is taking place.
There is no need for rushing ahead. There are no timetables, there are no deadlines. We should solve the excess nitrogen problem the most cost effective way possible.
Environmental organizations and EPA support and prefer alternatives such as decentralized low cost sewer systems because they are environmentally friendly as well as less expensive.
We should demand that town officials stop now and not proceed with implementation of their Grand Plan. They should carefully evaluate less costly options for integration into the final plan and you have learned what all your costs for your property will be for the different options. You should demand a town meeting vote on the plan, alternatives and taxpayer costs.
THERE IS NO TIME TO LOSE. WE MUST ACT NOW.
COME TO OUR EMERGENCY TAXPAYER PLANNING MEETING FRIDAY, JANUARY 22, 2010 AT THE COMMUNITY CENTER STARTING AT 8:30 A.M. TO LEARN FACTS ABOUT THE SEWER YOU HAVEN’T BEEN TOLD AND WHAT THE ACTION PLAN WILL BE TO STOP THIS DENIAL OF YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE ON THIS MONUMENTAL PROJECT.
BRING YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS. GET OUR SEWER NEWS IN THIS WEEK’S CHRONICLE.
Elaine Gibbs, homeowner and registered voter became incensed at the rude behavior of Chatham town officials towards CCT challenging them to tell taxpayers the truth about their HALF BILLION DOLLAR sewer plans. She devoted a week around the clock to finding out what is really about to happen if town officials succeed in starting construction of their huge, expensive sewer plan in the next few days. They will be in effect committing taxpayers to HALF A BILLION DOLLARS AND MORE in property taxes for which taxpayers have not voted.
Download a copy of Elaine's extraordinary memo to the selectmen demanding answers.
It is MUST READING. TELL YOUR FRIENDS TO GET THEIR COPY HERE. READ IT ONLIINE BY CLICKING THE LINK BELOW TO OPEN OR RIGHT CLICK ON "SAVE TARGET AS" AND DOWNLOAD YOUR OWN COPY TO THE FOLDER YOU SELECT.
Elaine will be telling the story at our Friday emergency taxpayer planning meeting at the Community Centee at 8:30 a.m..
We can't let them keep this story under the radar any longer. We'll be the losers if we do.
Why does Chatham always seem to find the most expensive way to do things? In this case, it's HALF A BILLION DOLLARS OR MORE, not just an overbuilt $10 million community center or a $17 million town hall annex for a handful of police and planning and permitting people. This is HUGE money. The job can be done for less, but town officials aren't interested. But taxpayers are very interested.
We'll discuss how we can slow things down and get cheaper solutions looked at.
It'll probably take a special town meeting to do it.
WHAT WILL THE TOWN OFFICIALS' CENTRALIZED SEWER COST PROPERTY TAXPAYERS? TOWN OFFICIALS WON'T SAY, SO CCT ESTIMATES
Chatham Concerned Taxpayers since last spring has been asking town officials to provide taxpayers with some real estimates of their costs for so-called Phase 1 of the Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan (CWMP). Town officials have decided upon a big city centralized sewer system, which will extend to about two-thirds of Chatham's properties. The quoted cost estimate (now three years old) has been $240 million, which is a staggering sum. But the real amount is going to be a lot more because the construction period will be 20 years, costs will rise and interest will have to be paid on the money borrowed.
Taxpayer Cost of the Centralized Sewer System Proposed by Town Officials. Despite CCTs requests, the only estimate given out by any town official for Phase 1 was by Dr. Robert Duncanson. As reported in the Cape Cod Times of December 7, 2009, in an interview with a reporter Duncanson claimed that the average homeowner would only pay $3,500 over 20 years, or an average of $175 per year. Since the average cost for an individual property owner's connection to the sewer is estimated by town officials as $6,500, Dr. Duncanson's $3,500 does not even cover that cost let alone pay any part of the property tax cost of the centralized sewer system itself..
Therefore, CCT decided to do its best to inform taxpayers what kind of costs they might face. Working with na Excel spreadsheet program, using publicly available information and normal engineering estimating practices, the table which appears below was developed to show approximate costs for properties of different valuation, depending on whether they would be sewered in Phase 1 or not.
As we see it, the total cost of the town officials' plan could be in the range of $490 million up to $750 million. The table below uses $500 billion to calculate taxpayer costs, which almost certainly understates what the taxpayer costs will ultimately be.
The main capital costs of the system will be on the property tax and payable by all properties, sewered or not. Those sewered will individually pay a connection charge and monthly maintenance fees. These costs are factored in along with interest (best available from the state) and 3% inflation. The $10 million net benefit from the USDA loan/grant program ($10 million) is credited to the overall cost. Numbers are rounded to zero for easier reading. The spreadsheet which generated the chart can be accessed by clicking on the link at the end of this item.
Click on the table below to get a bigger picture.
To view the back-up spreadsheet, click link below:
Why talk about a sewer at all? There is only one reason for discussing such a system at all: It is believed that by removing "excess nitrogen" from Chatham's embayments the waters will be healthier. Assuming that's so, CCT raised a simple, straightforward question, "Isn't there a way to do that for a lot less money than what town officials are proposing?"
Better, cheaper alternatives. It didn't take long for CCT to discover indeed there was. Low cost neighborhood or cluster sewer systems which can perform the required nitrogen removal task at far less cost. They can be installed jn a much shorter time frame, will cause far less disruption to the community's way of life and are much friendlier to the environment. They will show positive results sooner, no waiting for more than 20 years to see if the centralized sewer system actually does the job.
CCT presented an informational forum on these alternatives in September and petitioned the selectmen (September 22, 2009) to undertake an evaluation process of these alternatives that have the potential of saving taxpayers 25% to 50% of the cost of the centralized sewer system town officials were proposing to build. That could be $100 million to $250 million. The selectmen refused. CCT argued that they had a fiduciary obligation to taxpayers to look into possible savings of this magnitude. Still they refused. The selectmen said alternatives had been considered four or so years back and none of them worked. CCT's investigation showed that the town had never considered an alternative system that could do the job of removing nitrogen as well as any modern large sewer treatment plant at far less cost. Still, the selectmen refused.
There must be a town meeting to vote on the entire CWMP. The third request CCT made to town officials was to put the CWMP to a town meeting for a vote of approval or disapproval before launching any implementation of their hugely expensive project. Shockingly, it appears as if they have no intention of doing so. CCT has learned that the treatment plant upgrade they are planning to do immediately will enlarge it to its 20-year capacity, making it impossible to incorporate any far less expensive alternatives into the nitrogen removal solution. Taxpayers would in effect be forced to vote for all the additional monies ($180 to $200 million) to spread sewer piping throughout the town to provide the large quantities of wastewater the enlarged plant needs to operate. No taxpayer who voted for the treatment plant enlargement on May 11, 2009 in Article 14 of the Warrant had any idea he was in effect being committed to paying for a half billion to a billion dollar project, because he wasn't told that would be the effect of his vote.