Marion residents question wastewater treatment plan

Apr 19, 2019

MARION — A plan to spend an estimated $350,000 on a comprehensive wastewater management plan generated questions from the public at a pre-Town Meeting information session.

Selectmen held an informational session to review most of the articles on the Town Meeting warrant, in hopes that they could limit the amount of discussion and clarification at the May 13 Town Meeting night.

Selectman Randy Parker described the town’s current wastewater management plan as 20 years old and at end of its useful life. The town has received five bids a new plan, but has not selected a final engineer for the process, and does not know how much developing the plan will cost.

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

The town also faced a Nov. 30, 2019 deadline to line the lagoon on its wastewater treatment facility in order to be granted an operating permit by by the Environmental Protection Agency. That deadline has since been extended. 

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

At an April 2 meeting, Representative Bill Strauss clarified that although he was able to secure a grant for Marion for up to $2 million.

The Selectmen explained at the new meeting that the town has a base amount that it is allowed to discharge from its sewer system. These permitted levels are determined in part by the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus that are in the water system.

The system is  also designed to handle a certain amount of wastewater. However inflow and infiltration into the system, usually from stormwater entering the system, can increase the amount of water in the system.

In the event of a major storm the amount of water in the system is much higher, and can reach 1 million gallons.

Selectmen John Waterman said that in talking to the Wastewater Treatment Plant Superintendent Frank Cooper, the peak capacity that the superintendent had seen in a single day was 2 million gallons.

So far, Waterman described the town’s approach to wastewater as “playing defense, waiting for [regulatory agencies] to come along and make us do stuff. We want to be more proactive.” 

There are several wastewater issues that a comprehensive wastewater management system plan could look into.

Marion currently has about 1,700 ratepayers on its water and sewer systems. Additional homeowners using town sewer system (or hooking up to the town sewer), is something that the Selectmen have never really examined, though it might decrease rates.

The Selectmen emphasized that the wastewater management plan was a good outline for the town to follow, but that it is a plan not a solution for every wastewater issue.

However, Selectmen know that there are more advanced septic systems than the town uses now. In addition to exploring a more advanced system, a plan would also look at if selectmen could decrease the level of nitrogen in its water to be able to discharge more water.

Selectmen would also look to study where to expand the sewer system to, since expanding to certain areas may not be economically effective.

Judy Rosbe asked if the two million grant that the town is hoping to attain is connected to this project.

Selectmen responded that it is, and the town has already allocated $2.5 million for the project. They hope to get as much money from the grant upfront, and are encouraging residents to write to Governor Charlie Baker as his office forms the 2020 state budget.