Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Water Infrastructure Finance Commission Public Hearing
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Main Theater, Tilden Arts Center
Cape Cod Community College
2240 Iyannough Road
West Barnstable, MA
The Commission convened at 10 am.
Commissioners Present: Senator James Eldridge, Philip Jasset, Peter Shelley, Becky Smith, Ned Bartlett, David Terry, Tom Tilas, Paul Niedzwiecki
Senator Eldridge opened the hearing and thanked participants for coming. He explained the work of the Commission, and its purpose. He indicated that minutes of the Commission are available on the following website, and that written testimony is welcome.
Notes from the Testimony (please note: what follows is not an official transcript.)
Cape Cod Commission
Nutrient pollution is the principal problem for Cape Cod. Eighty percent of the problem comes from residential wastewater, served by on-site disposal systems. The issue is pervasive over 50 odd watersheds, many crossing town lines. Cape Cod has a sole source aquifer. Some areas will require more nitrogen remediation than others. Many times it is assumed that waste water problems have “big pipe” solutions, but this is unlikely on the Cape for a variety of reasons. It is anticipated some sewer infrastructure will be needed in Hyannis and other dense areas, but a mix of solutions are needed, in part to keep costs down, but also to meet environmental objectives. These will likely include improvements to title 5, cluster, satellite, and centralized solutions. The Cape Towns and the Commission are engaged in regional wastewater management planning, with the objective to restore degraded water bodies with regional nutrient management policy and to protect taxpayers. Legislators recently passed a 0% state revolving loan fund, but no communities have taken advantage of that.
What are the estimated costs? It would cost at least 8 billion to sewer entire Cape, while getting 25% of the residents on sewer would cost about 3 billion. We have to determine the mix of solutions and costs that will meet our objectives.
How will we pay for this? The demographics make this difficult. The Cape was a growth community in the 1980’s, but that is no longer the case. So property tax revenues are limited. Seasonal (second) homes are located mainly along the coasts, with owner-occupied residences (occupied by many retirees and the Cape’s work force) located more in the center of the Cape. The Cape has both very high and very low value homes, so that needs to be taken into account when we pay for infrastructure. The median housing value is less than 250K in mid and central cape.
There is still potential for growth in some places on the Cape. Mr. Niedzwiecki suggested that the Commission refer to the Cape Cod Commission website, www.capecodcommission.com for maps and a report card on status of wastewater planning. Some towns have made more progress than others.
I would like to reiterate the importance of regional approaches. We don’t want to overbuild or overtax to find effective solutions to move forward. Thank you for your attention.
Representative Matthew Patrick
State Rep, Third Barnstable District
Thank you to the Commission for your work. This is an important subject, especially on Cape Cod, requiring your understanding. The state needs to encourage affordable alternatives to “big pipe” conventional sewers, otherwise, nutrient pollution reduction will just be another unfunded mandate that could turn the Cape into a gated community. Depending on the solution, $4 to 8 billion in costs could create up to $60,000/property betterments and towns may also need to raise property taxes, or hike users fees and connection fees. Some sixty percent of our residents work in the service or retail sector, and it typically costs a family of 4 about $54,000 a year to have a modest lifestyle on Cape Cod. Given our economy, it often takes two people to earn that – and many of our residents are living on fixed, retirement incomes. I have been trying to get DEP and EPA to approve more “appropriate technology” – options that are affordable and can be maintained by the homeowner. Some of the alternatives include composting toilets, urine diversion, cluster sytems, and semi permeable barriers. We have trouble getting DEP to approve these technologies.
I also believe that peer review for the Mass Estuaries Project is very important. We are going to spend billions so we need to ensure cost effectiveness. I also want to mention I filed legislation to separate planning functions for designing wastewater plants from design and build functions. I hope the legislature will pursue this, as I believe there is an inherent conflict of interest in these contracts. We may thereby lose some efficiency but we need to discourage consultants from pushing the most expensive options. Thank you. .
Senator Eldridge: Can you tell us why no town has yet used the new zero percent interest program?
Representative Patrick: These issues are complex and can be rejected at town meeting. But I have always encouraged towns not to rush because the legislature can extend the ten year time frame.
Senator: You mentioned more appropriate technologies, how much would those technologies cost, and what is their effectiveness in reducing nutrients?
Representative Patrick: One issue is social acceptance; we need to do more to educate. We estimate there could be a cost reduction by a factor of ten, and could reduce nitrogen and phosphorous dramatically. Moreover, you waste a gallon and half of water every time you use the bathroom. Don’t know the energy costs.
Mr. Tilas: What is the average sewer rate for a resident on the cape?
Rep. Patrick: There are few sewers on Cape Cod; the majority of homes are on title 5. Where we do have sewage it’s based on water rates — usually 4 or 5 times what water rates are, it’s based on consumption times a factor.
State Senator Robert O’Leary
Cape Cod and the Islands
Thank you for coming, I appreciate the work of the Commission. This is a huge environmental issue and a huge municipal planning issue. I was proud to author the water protection act in the state senate and that legislation has set up vehicle to begin to address these concerns, but it has a built in “drop dead” date that may need to be revisited. However, the date was there for a purpose. Let me mention some history. There are strong parallels between the situation on Cape Cod and the situation a few years with the MWRA in Boston. There were strong violations of clean water act and failure to face up to it because it was so expensive and so complicated — difficulties outweighed benefits. However, the courts intervened and the same situation is playing out here. There has been a law suit filed and the last thing that we want to have happen is to have this resolved in the courts. We need to create incentives or towns won’t face issue and courts will step in. I would hope 0% loans are a good first step. I know that Barnstable and Chatham want to access the zero interest, but regulations need to be better aligned. I welcome you to the Cape and ask you to listen carefully to concerns of these communities because this is going to be a tough issue. On the issue of water quality, no other part of the commonwealth has greater issues than the Cape. There is a need for some additional financial support, and better regulations around the clean water act that work for communities, and we will need help so towns are not put off by the process. This is a difficult issue not because we’re parochial. Our towns, the state and the Cape Cod Commission have done a lot of work around this issue. I’d be happy to answer any questions.
Cape Cod and the Islands Group
Thank you for coming to Cape Cod. I’m going to speak about contaminants, endocrine disruptors, pharmaceutical products and others. Cape Cod and the Islands Group of the Sierra Club sponsored a meeting in February with the Silent Spring Institute to discuss these waste contaminants as an emerging concern. The power point for the presentation is available on the Silent Spring Institute website. The Sierra club has a national activist team that concentrates on safe reuse of effluent. Various upcoming meetings will be held to discuss this issue. You can find these chemicals in treated effluent as well as in the sludge after secondary treatment-the toxic chemicals wind up in both places. Traditionally people dispose of sludge by putting it in a landfill or sending it as a fuel for a waste energy plant. We should consider composting or using anaerobic digesters to treat sludge. The problem with reinjection of effluent into groundwater is that soil doesn’t always clean chemicals. For example, it has been found that there is little natural attenuation of toxic chemicals for perchlorates in ground water on the mass military reservation. We recommend education outreach program to reduce usage of contaminants by consumers, pharmaceutical take-back programs, and the exploration of alternative options for sludge treatment, including composting, anaerobic digesters, and waste-to-energy plants. My final point, based on my experience at mass military reservation, is that it is much easier to prevent, than treat, contaminants of emerging concern.
Senator Eldridge: What do you consider to be the proper disposal of sludge?
Mr. Dow: Compost or anaerobic digesters. Also good if you can remove some of the chemicals.
Mr. Tilas: Any thoughts on a tax on pharmaceutical and phosphorous producing fertilizers to pay for advanced treatment?
Mr. Dow: Extended producer responsibility makes a lot of sense.
Good morning, and thank you, Senator Eldridge and Commission members. It is a privilege to give some testimony regarding the water infrastructure finance commission. I am Vice President of consulting for CDM, with headquarters in Cambridge. I have worked on projects on Cape Cod for more than 30 years. I am also past president of ACEC Mass a group that has an expertise in drinking water, storm water, wastewater infrastructure. Bill Callahan is the ACEC rep on the commission and we thank him for his efforts. Prior to the forming of the commission, I had the opportunity to work with legislators to formulate the concept of this commission. The Commission provides an opportunity to bring together diverse constituencies. Fiscal resources are especially needed when financial wherewithal of cities, towns, and the state is being diminished. Representative Dykema and Senators Resor and Eldridge, thank you for your leadership. ACEC-MA and our sister organizations want this to succeed. We have a commitment to work to craft a credible report. Today it is my intent to be brief, we will submit formal written testimony. I have three items to touch upon. First, there is a significant need for funding on Cape Cod. Second, we need to develop a more credible list of actual needs for investment in the Commonwealth; and third, we need to create funding incentives for innovative solutions.
Cape Cod: Cape Cod is an important component of the Massachusetts economy. Tourists flock in summer, and the Cape is an economic boost to the state. The state needs to invest in the Cape to maintain beaches and clean drinking water so the special culture and economy of this region can succeed. One important element is the Estuaries Project, funded by the EPA, DEP and local communities and involving 70 estuaries. The study uses water quality sampling to determine health impacts and nutrient degradation. From that sampling, the study estimates the Total Maximum Daily Load (a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a water body can receive and still meet water quality standards). Those results have identified that nitrogen is the most significant pollutant, and significant amounts need to be removed from the ground water. Communities as a result are now facing hundreds of millions in costs: perhaps the total is 4 billion dollars. Per capita incomes are low and tax increases and betterment fees will be difficult.
Credible list of Needs: I suspect we are looking at 18 billion statewide, and 4 billion in water just on Cape Cod. But we need a credible list of what the real needs are. The SRF program has a list of needs; however, the paperwork, low rates, no design financing and other issues make SRF difficult-so towns don’t always apply, and this is not a complete list. More needs to be done to round out the inventory. Two years ago, Lt. Governor Murray asked for shovel ready projects and they came out of the woodwork. But what we need is a survey of real needs in all communities.
Incentives for innovative solutions: Often, the least cost options are implemented, but it is better for towns to look at long-term paybacks. Most water treatment facilities treat effluent as disposable, but if we had that water for irrigation, we could save drinking water resources for higher level needs. Funding incentives to encourage that would be better. We should be willing to help pay the difference for innovation, with principal forgiveness or other ideas for water reclaim projects.
ACEC-MA will provide written testimony, and looks forward to working with the Commission. Thank you.
Peter Shelley: With Boston Harbor and the MWRA, one factor that was important in keeping the wheels on was a high degree of confidence in the engineering, planning, and design and construction. I’m struck by the observation that wastewater planning on the Cape hasn’t generated the same confidence in the planning. Could you speak to that? My second question is: as an employee of CDM, given all the change that’s coming to this field, including integrated planning for stormwater, waste water and drinking water and the end of the era of large pipes, what are the options? So is there a low degree of confidence in planning and how are firms like CDM tackling issue of looking fairly at the options?
Mr. Young: First, regarding confidence, any time you look at the cost of the programs being considered people will get concerned and want to look hard at the choices. There are always some who want more study and some who want to build yesterday. The role of environmental consultants is to work with communities to develop recommendations in the planning phase, and to offer technical guidance, but communities make the ultimate decision. It takes a lot of effort to pull together different stakeholders, often this happens best in communities with strong leaders who can help. People don’t always agree. Some communities are ahead of the curve, some starting, some in the middle. There is no cookie cutter solution, each community is unique. On the matter of the Mass Estuaries Project and the interest in third party peer review, the question is, when should it be done and should communities stop and wait for it. Some people have raised questions but I don’t think anyone’s said the process is wrong. Plans are multiyear programs which give communities time to adapt, not like flipping a light switch. I am reminded of the work of Paul Brown, world renowned for talking about cities of the future, and taking a holistic picture. It’s about looking at the whole picture. Moreover, the wastewater, drinking water, and storm water investment needs must be approached in the context of economic incentives. We try to take that approach in every project and make links to other projects and bring other funding sources. Synergy is important.
Mr. Shelley: I wonder how you feel about Representative Patrick’s’ notion of separating planning and design/build?
Mr. Young: I totally disagree, because you build up a relationship when working with a community. That’s how you get your best project. I would also like to say that the industry disagrees with separating planning from design/build. Remember, the community makes the decision, the consultant guides, so I believe there are important efficiencies in this approach.
Mr. Callahan: I want to weigh in on Mr. Shelley’s questions. I was director of planning for Deer Island. The key was peer review. Early in the process, large boards of scientists and engineers and public allowed us to get opinions discussed and peer reviewers ultimately were our biggest supporters and defenders. This is an essential component, and it can take away concerns about conflict of interest.
Ms. Smith. Can you tell us more about the Mass Estuaries Project?
Mr. Young: I don’t know exact numbers, but I think it is funded by $3 to $5 million from DEP, and communities matched to several hundred thousand dollars. The program is a collaborative effort with volunteer labor.
Ms. Smith: What is the comparison between research dollars to solution dollars? For a four to six billion dollar “solution” on the Cape, how much is invested up front in research?
Mr. Young: Information is fed into each community’s planning process and most of those are in the half million range–it’s a fair amount of effort on guidance research.
Mr. Martin: I just want to speak to Mr. Shelley’s question on separating planning from construction. I represent the Mass Water Works Association on this Commission. Water suppliers are very concerned when a project exceeds its estimated cost due to change-orders during construction. Do you have any suggestions for protections for rate payers as a result of design issues or construction?
Mr. Young: That’s another seminar! I would say that one solution rests with the whole concept of selecting consultants based on qualifications, but if you get consultants based on price you get higher change orders. In the same way, as a consumer, do you use only cost measures when making medical legal or housing construction decisions? I doubt it.
Mr. Tilas: Would ACEC-MA support the Sierra Club’s initiative for tax on pharmaceutical or fertilizers? We know that road builders support using a gasoline tax to finance road and bridge infrastructure; would you support something similar for water and wastewater?
Mr. Young: Not sure. This is a complex issue, the reasonable use of fertilizers may be needed in certain uses. This is not just a tax issue. I’ll get back to you.
McArdle Gannon associates
BSCES GA and PP Commission
Thank you, I am a civil engineer and owner of a small firm on the south shore. I am here today to speak on behalf of the Boston society of civil engineers. We are concerned about public investment in the commonwealth’s infrastructure, and in particular, the need for investments in drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater. We see a number of troubling trends, including stressed watersheds, urbanization, runoff from impervious areas, drinking water safe yield limits, CSOS and aging plants built in the 1970s with federal funds. Communities today don’t have funds. Replacing infrastructure will be costly and disruptive. We can suggest some solutions. We recommend:
- For towns with drinking water issues, offer long term low interest loans for transmission pipes to let towns join the MWRA.
- Make sure you plan for redundancy
- Stress public education on the value of and true cost of water
- create regional entities that can control revenues and plan for maintenance,
- Use rate incentives to reduce water use,
- Look at private public partnerships at bottling plants
- Use dedicated funds Storm water utilities,
- Increase funding for WPAT,
- Implement asset management programs and use accounts that are funded annually
- Work to lower life cycle costs of plants
- Account for climate change in new projects
- Use low interest state revolving funds to rehabilitate dams
- Look at the GAO report on privatizing water and wastewater systems. Private Financing is often very expensive. Look at industries setting up partnerships with municipalities for processing water. Are these ways to get new infrastructure up and running faster, with less local opposition? This may be more costly, but it can also provide jobs.
- Look at design/build/operate contracts.
The Society is available to assist the commission in any way.
Westport Estuaries Committee
I am with the Westport Estuaries Committee. Thank you for taking my testimony. Westport is next to Rhode Island. We have similar problems, but we have different geology, so we are not sand-based like the Cape. We are also part of the Estuary Projecct, and have been working for 5 years on the study – We’ll be getting results in a few months, and then we will be moving on to develop a Comprehensive Waste Water Plan. We have started to think about financing.
My background is as an economist, and it seems to me that the SRF just isn’t adequate. One model that could help is something similar to the community preservation fund that would be dedicated to water or wastewater. The idea is that towns would vote to participate, would raise money through a local vote for a small surcharge on the property tax, and then the state could match the fund. This would allow us to leverage much larger amounts of money from other sources. This arrangement spreads the burden equitably, because betterment fees are inequitable, and often the clean up happens downstream from the pollution source, making an inequity in paying for the cleanup. I do think you should offer subsidies to lower income portions of the population. We are putting together a proposal for you to look at.
Buzzards Bay Water District
Mass Water Works
County Utility Organizations
Thank you. I represent the Buzzards Bay Water District, established in 1937. We have 2400 service connections and a population of 6500. We have a long list of necessary improvements, and estimate that we will need to spend 67 million over the next ten years. Right now, we’re spending money on repairs instead of maintenance, there just isn’t enough funding. Ratepayers and tax payers pay for these items, and many can’t afford it.
I don’t know how we’ll sustain the situation. For example, next spring our town will be doing a bridge replacement. This would be a good time for the town to put in a new water main on the bridge, and make it large enough to allow flexibility in the future. But using our funding source, this is not allowed because no pipe previously existed. Once this bridge goes in, the opportunity will be lost.
Regulatory requirements and compliance needs reduce available funds for improvements. At the same time, we are seeing about a 35% increase in operation costs over the last seven years due to increased chemical costs etc. Trying to balance our books leads us to defer necessary maintenance.
It is hard to develop a long term plan with all the demands upon us. We need help. We are a small system, and have used USDA funds (for a storage tank). Our customer base is small. We find the SRF to be difficult. I wonder if we could do more consolidated bidding within our region, and perhaps restructure SRF to make it easier for smaller communities.
Mr. Shelley: I wonder if you could comment on the difficulties of tackling a problem based on watershed boundaries versus political boundaries. Do you have any thoughts about multi jurisdictional utilities?
Mr. Woods: We are a small system and we do provide for customers in part of Plymouth. The Cape Cod Canal divides us from the rest of Bourne. We are all facing the permitting process, but there are several basins, and Bourne could be split during the regulating.
Good morning. I work for AECOM. I have been a part time resident of Cape Cod all my life, and a taxpayer since 1971. It’s important to realize that the Cape isn’t one entity. There will be more than one solution. Regulators need to keep that in mind.
I agree with Senator O’Leary that we need to make it possible for towns to access the zero percent loan.
I agree with Mr. Dow about the serious threat of contaminants. This issue is going to get much larger. Our short term solutions must address that.
I agree with Mr. Young that the Qualification Based Selection is very important. It is very difficult for municipalities to approach this work. Many non-technical people are pulled onto committees and they need to get sound advice.
The Green Center
The best technologies to ensure long range sustainability are ecologically derived solutions that can exchange nutrients safely and productively with both natural and agricultural ecosystems. Falmouth is in the middle of the process. I recommend the following:
1. Provide education to taxpayers. We pay for the infrastructure; therefore we need an overview of the big picture, and information about all alternatives.
2. Look for ecologically derived solutions. Begin at the lowest functional level of society and work for resilience and adaptability
3. Visual representations are important
4. Consider widespread use of urine diversion toilets. Urine is a major contributor to household nutrient loads. Pharmaceuticals can be separated with the urine, too.
5. Quantify the externalities of all systems, including social and financial costs
6. Look at all points and levels of intervention
7. Look at combinations of interventions
8. Look at the uncertainty of future energy costs.
Mr. Shelley: Are there any examples of where this has been done at a municipal scale? How do you monitor and maintain for quality control and performance? Do you depend on personal responsibility, or third party oversight?
Mr. Barnhart: The best solution for the Cape is a monitoring/maintenance service offered by the installer. Northern Europe has done a lot with these systems on a larger scale.
Barnstable County Commissioner
Thank you for the opportunity. There is no way can we can sewer the entire Cape. There are creative alternatives that have been approved, but on the whole, these are at best 70% effective 50% of the time.
I know you will hear from Mr. Barnhart and others about the importance of composting systems and other alternatives. The national sea shore has it and folks don’t realize they’re composting systems. But I believe these are not the solution.
As to Representative Patrick’s concern, we’re already almost a gated community, because costs are very high to live here. Right now, retired people do a lot of the water testing, which is valuable, but there can also be a detriment to having people going over data and putting an element of doubt into the minds of boards of selectmen. They create a lack of confidence by raising doubts.
I believe that the average citizen understands that we have a water issue and we love this area, and we understand that it’s a special place but not the same as 30 years ago.
Resistance comes when the sticker price is put on, and the onus is put on the towns individually. Towns try to show leadership, but interest groups cast doubt on everything. The science will be questioned. There is a mistrust of government. The National Academy of Sciences has been put out as the entity that can save us, but peer review can take 2-4 years and it can be expensive.
Towns need regional solutions, and creative funding options. We need a way to solve this equitably – the financial burden shouldn’t be localized with the advantage ensues to all.
We have already spent 6 million on Mass Estuaries Project studies, and we’ve spent a couple of millions of dollars to help towns. The county doesn’t’ have the power to demand the peer review, but the county is trying to provide leadership. I think we need to give power to the county or to the Cape Cod Commission to encourage regional solutions. It’s a regional problem, it needs a regional solution.
I also want to touch on Senator O’Leary’s comment, there is something to be said about a time limit, on the SRF program; it’s not a bad thing. But keep in mind that if you want a peer review and things stop for 2 years we may not be able to meet the deadline.
Thank you again for the opportunity to comment and welcome to Cape Cod.
Mr. Tilas: Have you folks developed a financing plan? Can you share that?
Ms. Lyons: We’re in the middle of that. SRF funds aren’t going to be enough, bottom line. People are willing to pay their share as long as they’re not double taxed
Mr. Shelley: It seems that there is tension between home rule and the importance of developing solutions at different scales. In response to your report that MMR demonstrates 70% effectiveness 50% of the time, and that is clearly not acceptable, but Europe reports higher success rates. DEP is resistant to give its blessing to new approaches because when the wheels come off they get blamed. I have to believe that that statistic isn’t something we have to be bound by.
Lyons: Other approaches will take more education; I agree we don’t have to be bound by that.
There’s a lot of misunderstanding about alternatives. We need to stress the responsibility of citizens. We need to manage resources. We can no longer waste resources for rivers and ponds. I have lived with a composting toilet for 10 years and there are a lot of misconceptions. The compost is a small amount of waste, and for the homeowner, there is not a large maintenance issue. The small basket of “waste” that can be buried, or picked up by a hauler and brought to a commercial composting facility, where it is mixed with leaves and other compost. This compost can in turn reduce the use of chemical fertilizers. We need to ban chemical fertilizers and use our own “waste” instead. The new toilets work extremely well and you just have to crank it once a week. The point is that you use less water with composting toilets and by installing urine diverting toilets we could achieve a huge amount of nitrogen reduction.
Clean Water Action
I am a member of the Commission, but also want to testify today to represent Clean Water Action. We think there’s a new way to save money while building cities and towns of the future. There are projects near and far that would be considered “innovative.” Like Gillette Stadium, built to help keep the Patriots in Massachusetts, and which treats and reuses water locally to keep costs down. There are innovative systems that pull heat out, nitrogen and phosphorous out. Most of the communities on the Cape are renegotiating their solid waste contracts — we think these towns should look at treating solid waste locally. In municipal engineering projects, let’s plan for adaptation, innovation, and local treatment. If it’s going to be 10 years coming lets plan for change every 2 years.
- Use science based adaptive management by funding demonstration projects in a systematic way.
- Recognize the complexity of our ecosystems.
- Recognize that the Cape needs a long term plan but be willing to adapt as more information is known.
- Take into account the potential challenges of climate change, saltwater intrusion and rising sea levels.
The National Academy of Science has suggested not just a simple review but a holistic approach. We need to focus SRF and other funding on innovative and alternative systems with green outcomes. This may take new scoring mechanisms to level the playing field for those projects. We need to encourage elected officials to find the funding for the NAS approach. Believe it or not, there is a country full of engineers and scientists who will watch this and it’s a real opportunity to pivot from a problem that’s expensive and scary to solutions that can become a global example.
Town of Barnstable
Department of Public Works
Good morning. I have been working on Cape Cod for 25 years, and certainly it’s a priority for us to protect our water resources. We need to manage water withdrawals and sewer discharge and storm water. This is the greatest challenge that we have had financially; it is likely that we will need to invest tens of millions of dollars. We’ve always comprehensively planned. We need an approach to share costs not just locally, but also regionally, and at the state and federal level. We work hand in hand with our county government and we work closely with EPA and the state. We’ve been the recipient of SRF funds. And having comprehensive plans has helped us prioritize. In 2009 we received federal moneys a 20% principal forgiveness subsidy and an 11% principal forgiveness subsidy that allowed us to move forward with our priorities. Cape Cod is a significant tourist destination, and our water resources are key to being able to maintain that. When we’re down to the bottom line, we’ve borne the cost of infrastructure locally, but moving forward, we can no longer afford that, and the Cape is a resource that is shared and enjoyed by many who don’t live here.
Mr. Shelley: Thank you; it seems you’ve navigated the tricky politics of local government successfully. Barnstable shares some watersheds with neighboring municipalities, how can we get municipalities to work together on shared problems, carrots or sticks?
Mr. Eus: Some mechanisms are in place already. In order to be eligible for some funding, you need to have looked at things in a comprehensive way and at the regional level and if more support is given, more attention will be given to those requirements. From a practical level, you can’t solve the problem without a regional approach. The public will expect regional solutions. If the biggest issue is the funding, most folks who deal with it know regional solutions are needed. We have regular communications with abutting communities.
Mr. Jasset: Thinking about Boston Harbor, or the Charles River — they were as big a problem as we have on the Cape and they were solved with federal, state and local assistance. Based on the question of regionalization, I agree that the Cape needs to solve the problem on a regional basis, has anyone started an in-house citizens group.
Mr. Eus: Yes,we have a citizen’s advisory committee. I don’t know that there’s been anything comprehensive enough to put before the community yet. The question hasn’t been framed in a way to be evaluated yet.
Thank you. I am a certified public works manager, and also a professor at the Community College. I teach a course that highlights water resource management as a citizenship/historic arc. I actually start with the history of civilization, and of course our nation’s modern infrastructure programs started during the depression, when we took on huge infrastructure needs at a time when society was at a real financial crisis. There are ways to move forward even in tough times, in a way that is environmentally correct and cost effective. I like to talk to my students about the “Water- diamond” paradox. Diamonds are useless and expensive; water is necessary and relatively cheap – about 1/3 of one cent per gallon.
We need to change our thinking about how to use water and wastewater. Until we recognize the value of water, we won’t be able to convince citizens to spend what it costs. We have the best water in the world and you can go anywhere and drink the water and be sure it’s safe. As a water manager, I am responsible for the safety of water. There is a central, municipal public safety imperative. That is one problem with alternative systems – who is responsible? Additionally, with “big pipe” solutions it is possible to get a very big bang for your buck. Of course, we also need to think about the natural water balance, and discharge in the same watershed as we withdraw.
I have several suggestions:
- I believe that matching grant type programs are a good way to go. Everyone shares in the costs and has a stake.
- Dedicate the new local options taxes for infrastructure. Barnstable has a bill in the legislature to do this. Infrastructure I sooften first on the chopping block, it seems like we often defer maintenance or asset management in tough times. A dedicated fund would make sure the new tax dollars go to infrastructure.
- Enable impact fees, so that towns can assess new development to share in the cost of new or expanding infrastructure needs. State has been against impact fees, it’s not unfair.
- Utilize/expand existing programs such as the PWED program. These grants fix what people can’t see.
- Make Chapter 90 more flexible, so it can be used to replace utilities on the roads that the town maintains. Or have a Chapter 90 type of program for water and wastewater infrastructure so that towns get a budget for that each year. Right now, the limitations mean you can fix roads only, you can’t replace a water main–you wind up digging up new roads to fix old pipes instead of fixing them all at once.
- Do a Cost benefit analysis for any new regulation so we determine the impact on municipalities. What do we want to accomplish, and how much will it cost? This analysis helps people see and understand the value of water. The more of that that gets done at the state level the easier it is at the local level.
- Prop 2.5 – in my opinion the numbers no longer work. One solution would be to exempt maintenance of infrastructure and improvements from prop 2.5.
Mr. Eldridge: Do you have any recommendations on how to structure a campaign on public education?
Mr. Eus: At the elementary and high school level, education is nonexistent. We could do something there.
Tom Tilas: How do you feel about allowing water and sewer rates to be tacked on to real estate taxes so you can get a tax benefit when you pay?
Mr. Eus: I have no objection, but people still need to see the value of water. Regionalization is also key to get economies of scale.
Town of Falmouth
Waste Water Superintendent
Thank you. If you want to predict the future you need to plan today. I have some small but direct suggestions:
- DEP needs to be better funded. Come up with a roadmap to fund DEP, they are the leadership. We have lost a lot of senior DEP officials.
- On affordability, I think we can afford things but we have to spread the cost out over the whole property value of the town so that it’s manageable. Not just the rate payers.
- Look at making some improvements to betterments law. Right now, betterments are limited to the bonding period, but in order to make things affordable you could allow a betterment to go 30 or 40 years. That’s more affordable. You keep people in their home.
- Fiscal and Environmental (regulatory) responsibility are equally important. Too often, when the selectmen cut a budget, the town ends up choosing fiscal responsibility over environmental responsibility.
- By using enterprise funds, you can show the full cost of infrastructure. Enterprise accounting should be mandatory. And then funding improvements may be more politically viable.
- Performance bonds don’t really work. Look at another idea.
- Make the homeowner responsible for Title V compliance, by using enforcement against the homeowners to inspect, monitor, and maintain their systems.
Harwich Water department
Thank you. In Harwich we have a backlog of about $45million in capital needs. The way I look at it, it all comes out of our pockets, wheter national, state, or locally financed. The problem is that water is priced too low.
One issue that hasn’t been mentioned is that the Water Management Act has been used to restrict consumption of water – but this directly affects our bottom line. How do we raise the money we need? We have to charge customers more for less water consumed.
The SRF is terrible for towns. I would prefer to have the money put in a bank, and let towns copete for the funds. Right now, SRF funds to go the same towns over and over. Why is that? It seems that sometimes responsible towns get penalized for the gains we have already made, like reducing our unaccounted for water.
Mr. Eldridge closed the hearing and thanked everyone for coming.