Commission Sewer Plans Forming, Not For Quick Regional Takeover

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By: Brian Kehrl
Published: 04/06/12

 Cape Cod Commission Executive Director Paul J. Niedzwiecki this week pushed back against concerns that the county government is preparing to take over wastewater infrastructure projects across the region.

His comments came on Tuesday morning at a press conference at the commission’s Barnstable Village offices, where he unveiled a preliminary version of a new computer program that will allow towns to test different wastewater infrastructure scenarios.

But in-between demonstrations of the new geographic information system-based program, Mr. Niedzwiecki said suggestions that the commission is preparing to take over wastewater planning or create a new entity similar to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) are far off base.

The commission is focused now on planning and better understanding potential costs, he said, adding that discussions about creating a new public agency are “premature.”

The press conference comes in the aftermath of a vote this winter by the Barnstable County Commission asking Mr. Niedzwiecki and Cape Cod Water Protection Collaborative Executive Director Andrew Gottlieb to put together recommendations on how to drive more cooperation between towns on the wastewater issue.

Mr. Niedzwiecki argued that such regional cooperation would be beneficial, but he said discussions about government structure should be put off until at least next year.

The county has no legal right to simply take over the projects from towns, he said. Any major change will go through a public hearing process and be subject to a referendum.

It is too early to predict exactly what might be on such a referendum, he said, but an MWRA-like agency would not work on the Cape. Whereas the cities and towns in metro-Boston that were brought under the MWRA all had infrastructure that was old and falling apart, the Cape does not even have large-scale wastewater infrastructure.

Nitrogen pollution is a problem for towns across the region, which features 46 different waterbodies impaired by too much of the nutrient. The watersheds represent 69 percent of the total land area of Cape Cod.

“This is our problem, all of us,” he said. “It is hard to conceive of individual efforts that are going to produce the most efficient results across the region, efficient in terms of both success and costs.”

A New Tool
The new computer program links together data on land parcels, nitrogen pollution, and wastewater treatment options. By creating different scenarios assigning treatment options to parcels, users of the program will be able to get a sense of how much nitrogen is removed using different types of technologies. The treatment options range from standard Title V septic systems to urine-diverting toilets to full-scale wastewater treatment plants.

The program is scheduled for release in a more final format in May. Ultimately it will include cost information for each of the different types of technologies.

The program gives towns and the public access to a type of analysis that heretofore has been provided primarily by consulting engineers hired by many Cape towns, Mr. Niedzwiecki said. It does not supplant the need for engineers to perform more detailed analyses of the treatment options and for scientists to determine whether the infrastructure will remove enough nitrogen to comply with the federal Clean Water Act.

But Mr. Niedzwiecki said he foresees the program being a new tool for towns to use in making the case for their infrastructure plans. If at a Town Meeting, for example, a resident says he has heard that a particular technology is the cheapest and best option and then questions why that technology was not used more prominently in the plan, town officials will now be able to pull up the program and illustrate on a screen in front of the crowd why that technology is not the best choice.

“It allows us to answer those questions graphically, definitively, and expeditiously,” he said.

The program is the result of four months of work by the commission’s staff, funded in part by a $150,000 state grant.

He pledged that every assumption and methodology that go into the program will be public and transparent.

That the program gives tools to the towns that they did not have before demonstrates that the commission is not strictly interested in creating a monolithic, countywide wastewater agency, Mr. Niedzwiecki said.

The program is one of several parallel tracks the commission is working on, Mr. Niedzwiecki said, efforts that also include a cost study that will detail how much towns stand to save by fostering more regional cooperation.

Who Was, Wasn’t There
Attendees at the 11 AM press conference included several state and local officials. State Senator Daniel A. Wolf (D-Harwich) lauded the progress being made by the commission and said more regional wastewater cooperation will allow him to better advocate for federal and state funding. Provincetown Selectman Austin Knight, current chairman of the Cape and Islands Selectmen’s and Councilor’s Association, said his primary concern is avoiding a court-ordered cleanup. An aide to US Representative William R. Keating also was in attendance, along with officials from Mashpee, Sandwich, Falmouth, and Barnstable.

Sen. Wolf said he was reassured by the presence of such a variety of public officials, as solving the problem will require cooperation among many levels of government.

Missing from the discussion were any opponents of the regional wastewater proposal, an observation noted by Barnstable County Commissioner Sheila R. Lyons and Mr. Niedzwiecki. No one spoke up to identify him or herself as a member of a group supposedly formed to fight the concept, calling itself Voices on Wastewater.

In an e-mail correspondence, a representative of the opposition group wrote that one of the organization’s supporters was there but did not speak up for fear of retribution. The representative declined to name the individual and several requests for telephone interviews.

Mr. Niedzwiecki’s address was in large part a pep talk about why the nitrogen issue should be addressed and how the region can rise to the challenge.

He described a field trip out on the Mashpee River with the commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection last summer, where the two pulled up sediment core samples. The only species living in the muck was a sea worm that Mr. Niedzwiecki said is the “marine equivalent of the cockroach.”

“Other than that, the river is dead. The marine embayments on this peninsula are dead or dying,” he said.
However, he said that with corrective actions, the embayments could be turned around in three to five years.

“We can fix this. And we can do it in a way that is affordable,” he said.

5 Responses to "Commission Sewer Plans Forming, Not For Quick Regional Takeover"

  1. **NOTE: County officials repeatedly state that they have ‘no plans’ to discuss or implement an MWRA-style, Cape-wide Wastewater Authority (or Cape Cod Regional Sewer Entity), then why are they giving a formal presentations to Cape Cod municipal officials which does exactly that? (See below.) Think about it! "More About Waste Water and the MWRA"- A focus on legal issues and updates, the economic cost and financing of waste water projects and the who, when, where, and how the MWRA was established. We extend an invitation to members of the Town Managers Association to come share their experiences, suggestions, and concerns alongside CCSCA members. The following government officials will speak: Larry Ballantine (selectman Harwich and Chair Cape Cod Water Protection Collaborative - CCWPC), Paul Niedzwiecki (Executive Director Cape Cod Commission), Andrew Gottlieb (Executive Director Cape Cod Water Protection Collaborative). FRIDAY, April 13, 2012 Brookside Club, Bourne, MA MacArthur Blvd (RT 28) -Promptly at 7:30am (Please RSVP to or call 508- 778-6824) Directions: Go over the Bourne Bridge, take MacArthur Blvd toward Falmouth. Brookside will be on the right after about 2-3 miles EMAIL RSVP:

  2. Cape wastewater authority must have limited powers I write with intense foreboding about a serious Cape-wide issue that grows with significance each day: creation of a massive and uncontrollable county-wide sewer authority. The chief responsibility of a Massachusetts Water Resources Authority-style wastewater authority is to institute centralized wastewater processing and sewer services throughout a general geographical area like Cape Cod. It has rate-setting and taxation powers. Such an independent government agency has a legally separate governing board. Board members are not elected, but appointed by other government officials. An autonomous authority would unilaterally seize specific decision-making, fee imposition and taxation powers from the 15 municipalities of Cape Cod regarding wastewater infrastructure issues and/or services. Wastewater/sewer rates and relevant taxes would incessantly go up year-after -year. As proposed by county officials and their agents, the Cape Cod Regional Wastewater Authority will simply not be fair or affordable for Cape Cod residents. It needs to be stopped from imposing its planned oppressive new taxes, and properly brought under local control of the 15 towns of Cape Cod. This can and should be done once this measure is appropriately scheduled for a Cape-wide voter referendum at the earliest possible instance. Ron Beaty West Barnstable

  3. FOLLOW-UP NOTE: Out of apparent guilt & embarrassment after their "less-than-transparent" approach to the regional wastewater issue had been exposed to the Cape Cod public, the county officials in question had the title of the CCSACA presentation changed to: "A Discussion About Wastewater and Community Engagement." However, the orginal website notice had already been printed out and will be uploaded later (with a link provided) to illustrate yet again the ongoing duplicity by county officials that still surrounds this issue.

  4. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) title and subject content matter has been uploaded and the link is displayed below. Thank you "Original Notice of Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) Presentation By Barnstable County Officials"

  5. Recent public statements by Dr. Cheryl Andrews, Provincetown Delegate to the County Legislature: “The Assembly is the only group that ever opposes the (county) commissioners. Every time they set up a group and [that group doesn’t] do what they want, they get rid of the group.” "The commissioners marginalized the county water collaborative," said Andrews, "and set up the special commission." She feels that the commissioners want to get rid of the Assembly first, then create the wastewater authority. "“I’m very disappointed with level of transparency at the county,” Andrews said. - - - Wellfleet Selectman and also Wellfleet's delegate to the County Legislature, Paul Pilcher, recently said: “Nobody disputes the need for regional planning for wastewater,” the stated rationale for the wastewater authority. What he questions, however, is creating an authority with the ability to tax and tell towns what to do. “We’re smart enough to create joint solutions without being forced," he said. “People are apprehensive about an authority..."

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