$2 million grant, project extension may help Marion’s wastewater woes

Apr 3, 2019

MARION — Representative Bill Strauss appeared before the Board of Selectmen to present a state grant that he secured for Marion that could earn the town as much as $2 million for a major wastewater treatment project. 

Marion has been subject to pressure on one lagoon for years, including a January 2018 lawsuit by the Buzzards Bay Coalition because the lagoon was unlined and leaking sewage. 

The town also faced a Nov. 30, 2019 deadline to line the lagoon in order to be granted an operating permit by by the Environmental Protection Agency.  As a result, Marion hired a consultant, CDM Smith, to help with the planning work for the project. 

The project went out for bids under CDM Smith, and when estimates came back in February they were almost $2 million higher than anticipated. Since then the town has been looking for solutions to the problem. 

The project also includes other wastewater treatment improvements, and in total will cost around $7.5 million.

At an April 2 meeting, Strauss clarified that although he was able to secure a grant for Marion for up to $2 million, “that’s not a guarantee that [the state] will spend that,” adding that getting as much of the funding as possible will require a lobbying effort.

The discussion then centered around how to best secure that funding. One strategy would be to wait. 

Town Administrator Paul Dawson also announced that the town had completed a consent degree with the Department of Environmental Protection, a legal agreement that states that the agency will not prosecute or fine the town. The consent degree pushes the deadline to June 30, 2020 on the state side. Dawson has made a request that the EPA also honor that deadline, and has not received a response. However he said the agency commented that it would likely honor whatever the state decided. 

“It’s been well over a year of serious negotiation, and we had a really good amount of cooperation with the DEP,” Dawson said, adding that “it was the best permit we could have hoped for.” 

The discussion then turned to long-term strategy for the grant. Strauss suggested that borrowing lower amounts over a few years might be more effective. 

Selectman John Waterman seemed to approve. “This is a three, four, five year project, and it’s only the lining that has a deadline,” he said. 

Strauss said that while “it can only help if people in town express [support] in letters,” one of the most important next steps for Selectmen will be the debt schedule and financing agreement that Marion submits to the state on the project. 

The project will likely be funded by a 30 year debt overlay. However, the Selectmen concluded that it’s better to be less aggressive and get $2 million over five years than $0 in one year.