Falmouth Wastewater Committee Wraps Up Task

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By: Christopher Kazarian
Published: 10/29/10

In March nine residents were appointed to a board that was given what to many appeared to be a monumental task—analyze the draft plan to clean up Falmouth’s estuaries and look at every option for wastewater treatment as a way to lessen the financial burden upon the town and build consensus among the public.

This week that group, known as the Falmouth Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan Review Committee, concluded its mission, voting on a list of recommendations it will bring to Falmouth selectmen on Monday night.

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Residents are pushing for alternatives to sewering in Falmouth.

Unlike many nights, when they have gathered for three-hour marathon sessions, Tuesday’s work was completed in less than two hours with most of their concerns wrapped around the first budgetary expenditure that will come before Town Meeting and voters next spring.

Initially, the board had proposed a lump sum of $15 million, to be funded through a debt exclusion, the majority of which would go toward the preliminary design at a cost of $1 million, and the construction design, at $10 million, of the proposed comprehensive wastewater management plan.

This week the committee elected to recommend that the amount be split up, with $6 million expended next spring and another $9 million in the spring of 2013.

Line items add up

Committee member Peter F. Boyer explained that the preliminary design would provide for a much clearer picture of how much money would be needed for the construction design in 2013.

At the same time, he said, it would mean asking Town Meeting and voters to approve two debt exclusions over the next three years for tackling the town’s wastewater problems.

While Mr. Boyer proposed one use of the total $15 million at the board’s meeting two weeks ago, some questioned his appropriation of money for alternative systems solely in Bournes Pond.

The most vocal criticism came from fellow board member Eric T. Turkington, who asked that alternatives be placed throughout town to determine their individual effectiveness in reducing nitrogen from estuaries.

This week Mr. Turkington added a proposal for the first $6 million to the mix, one that most of the board members appeared to support, although it was ultimately amended based upon his and his colleagues’ input.

His initial proposal included $2.5 million for the design as well as the repair of the force main sewer on the Shining Sea Bikeway as well as $500,000 for repairing the odor control at Service Road.

However, Wastewater Superintendent Gerald C. Potamis said the work to repair the force main sewer would more likely be in the neighborhood of $2 million and he did not want to mislead the public with the lower number.

While the town could fund it in this article, he said it could also wait until the Department of Environmental Protection forces Falmouth to take action on the matter.

At first Mr. Turkington said he was unsure whether it was wise to split up the $15 million into two debt exclusions, but ultimately reasoned that the purpose his committee was formed was to find alternative solutions for wastewater treatment as opposed to simply sewering Falmouth watersheds from Little Pond east to Waquoit Bay.

The first $6 million, he said, addresses those concerns by focusing on alternatives first. In addition, he said, it will give residents a better idea of how much will need to be spent on the construction design in 2013 at a time when he saw the economy improving.

Room for alternatives

Committee Chairman Virginia Valiela said the alternative projects would be done at the same time as sewering is done on Davis Straits and Maravista.

As a way to reassure taxpayers, committee member George R. Heufelder said it would be wise to tell them the town will not proceed with additional sewering beyond those two points, until “we see the results of the demonstration projects.”

Mr. Heufelder asked whether there was any flexibility at Town Meeting to ensure other alternatives could be explored in addition to those proposed by Mr. Turkington.

The studies would determine the amount of nitrogen that can enter those estuaries on a daily basis, or Total Maximum Daily Loads, without harming it.

The committee recommended futher study of several alternative wastewater treatment strategies:

  • $200,000 for aquaculture cultivation
  • $350,000 for the widening of the Bournes Pond and Little Pond channels
  • $100,000 for addressing road runoff
  • $1 million for repairing the force main sewer under the bike path
  • $300,000 for designing and permitting a comprehensive wastewater management plan for Oyster Pond
  • $172,250 for the remaining studies of Quissett Harbor, Salt Pond, and Falmouth Harbor, to be done by the the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology.
  • Another $400,000 for monitoring the town’s estuaries
  • $697,250 devoted to a contingency fund
  • $50,000 for a demonstration composting toilet facility
  • Items that the committee decided not to fund: $1 million for a Permeable Reactive Barrier (PRB) along Seacoast Shores and $275,000 for constructing settling ponds north of Bournes Pond and dredging Mill Pond

These figures were ultimately altered by the committee to not include construction of the settling ponds, because Ms. Valiela pointed out with Mill Pond, those would not be beneficial. With Bournes Pond the committee did not believe there was public space north of it available to create such a man-made pond.

Mr. Turkington also suggested removing the barrier from his proposal, noting that Mashpee was working on a similar project to install a PRB on the opposite side of Waquoit Bay. He said that project could act as a demonstration for Falmouth on whether to pursue that technology elsewhere in town.

That would free up $1 million to go toward the repair of the force main sewer on the bike path, he said.

Ms. Valiela recommended adding one more item—$50,000 for composting toilets, including a public facility, perhaps at Menauhant Beach, that would allow residents to see how the technology works. The board endorsed this idea.

Overall, Ms. Valiela called Mr. Turkington’s proposal a “shopping list” of alternative wastewater projects the town could pursue as a way to clean up its estuaries. If those projects are successful, she said, they could eliminate the need for sewering as the primary method of treatment.

Before voting in favor of the proposal, committee member John B. Waterbury asked that a clause be added to explain that the list of alternatives could be added to or deleted at a future date.

“I will work on that because this isn’t a complete budget,” Mr. Boyer said. “The goal [of this] is for Town meeting to understand where we are focusing.”

The board ultimately voted unanimously in favor of the budget proposal, which will now go to selectmen for consideration.

In concluding its work this week, the committee will disband, although there could be opportunities for members to remain involved in future wastewater planning.

Committee recommendations call for selectmen to consider creating a new standing wastewater committee as well as a financial study group to examine the best way to fund the project, the first phase of which is expected to cost in the range of $290 million to $320 million.

1 Responses to "Falmouth Wastewater Committee Wraps Up Task"

  1. What does not appear to be under consideration is the strategy that could have prevented the current situation from getting to this point to begin with. As early as 1992, when I attended the Waquoit Bay conference on nitrogen, the Cape could have embarked on a program of installing denitrifying "sand" filter systems coupled with shallow, lightly-loaded drip irrigation fields. This could be done on the scale of an individual house on up to whole areas of a town. The basic idea being to reuse (disperse) the water on a highly distributed basis, it is likely that a highly distributed treatment system would be the most expeditious strategy -- that is, a treatment unit, say, for every block or so. The treatment unit would consistently and reliably produce an effluent with total nitrogen concentration in the 10-15 mg/L range (with VERY low O&M liability, which is why it could be installed in distributed fashion without O&M being untenable). In the summer, much of the effluent run into the drip irrigation field would be evapotranspirated, and most of the nitrogen lost to plant uptake and in-soil denitrification, so very little would find its way into ponds and bays. This is the time of year when, as I understand it, N inputs are most damaging to those waters. In the winter, with no uptake but still some N losses to in-soil denitrification, and with most of the water percolating rather than being lost via evapotranspiration, the N loadings to ponds and bays would be higher, but at a time of year when these inputs are not very significant, as I understand it. This strategy could have been installed for all new development and much of the existing development could have been retrofit in the intervening 18 years. But it wasn't. It appears that NO meaningful action was taken. So how about considering that in your mix of strategies going forward. I understand there may be an opportunity to demonstrate this sort of approach in Dennis, for a condo cottage project. Falmouth might be wise to pay attention.

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