Cape Cod Times
By Tanner Stening
Posted Aug 14, 2019 at 9:11 PM
Updated Aug 15, 2019 at 6:27 AM
Mashpee weighs wastewater management options
Town could pay millions for its own plan or join regional effort at base.
MASHPEE — The Board of Selectmen is considering handing responsibility of the multimillion-dollar wastewater infrastructure project over to the Mashpee Water District and a yet-to-be-created sewer district.
The selectmen held a special meeting Monday to talk about the town’s existing plan to manage its nitrogen load, which includes spending potentially tens of millions of dollars to upgrade the town’s wastewater infrastructure.
But the form of that spending — how much and on what — has created obstacles to action at a time when officials agree that something has to be done about the nitrogen-burdened Popponesset and Waquoit bays. Several proposed town meeting articles to approve funding to design a sewer collection system and wastewater treatment plant were postponed in the spring, and could potentially be put off again this fall.
To combat ongoing water quality problems, Mashpee officials have put together a watershed nitrogen management plan that looks to supplement sewers and other alternative wastewater treatment by using shellfish.
After several hours of discussion in a room packed with residents, the selectmen formally requested that the Mashpee Water Commission consider transferring responsibility of the wastewater infrastructure project — in whatever final form it takes — to its water district. Selectmen also entertained the possibility of creating a sewer district that would jointly operate and manage the project.
The town could go in several directions. It could pursue its local solutions, including building the treatment plant and sewer system, or it could fund and build pipelines connecting their infrastructure to Joint Base Cape Cod’s treatment plant.
The latter plan depends on collaboration already ongoing between Bourne, Falmouth and Sandwich, which are also considering building into the base plant.
It also depends on whether the Air National Guard will hand over management and operation of the plant to Barnstable, which recently submitted a letter of interest in doing so.
Barnstable Public Works Director Daniel Santos said the town has until Sept. 30 to develop a proposal detailing the operation change.
“Our interest is in being able to accommodate our wastewater needs on the western part of Barnstable into the future,” he said. “We need effluent disposal options.”
The Upper Cape has been participating in a state-funded regional study that proposes tackling wastewater management to the tune of $155 million through local capital projects on a regional solution involving the base. The towns were awarded two Community Compact Cabinet Efficiency and Regionalization grants as part of a state program, according to Edward Leonard, senior project manager at Wright-Pierce, the engineering firm spearheading the study.
Leonard said the four towns have met more than a dozen times to discuss the regionalization effort, though historically there have been smaller town-to-town partnerships on the issue of wastewater management, specifically on reducing septic system runoff and nitrogen levels in shared watersheds.
Mashpee, Sandwich and Barnstable, for example, have a shared watershed agreement that the towns signed on to about a year ago with the aim of improving water quality in Popponesset Bay.
Regardless of what the town does, officials agree that something needs to be done. The water quality in all of the bays fail to meet state water quality standards, causing wholescale habitat decline, according to Brian Howes, professor of marine science and technology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, who appeared before the selectmen recently.
“Moving forward is not so much the question as the form in which the forward movement is taken,” Town Manager Rodney Collins said.
A joint water-and-sewer district project might be a complicated approach, requiring that legislation be signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker to change the terms of the district’s authority, according to Andrew Marks, operations manager at the Mashpee Water District.
“Our enabling act does not allow us to do anything other than water,” he said. “We can borrow money for water, install and build pumps and tanks. Our singular duty is water-related, and does not include wastewater.”
Collins said he plans to meet with the water commissioners to discuss the possibility of the town imparting, or sharing, responsibility with the district.
And the selectmen don’t anticipate relinquishing all project oversight should the district get involved.
“I think we ought to have some checks and balances through the selectmen,” Selectman Thomas O’Hara said Tuesday.
— Follow Tanner Stening on Twitter: @tsteningCCT.