Opinion: Marion’s $9.5 million burden going unnoticed by state

Nov 2, 2020

To the Editor:

Most residents are aware that our Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) is undergoing what was an estimated $8,000,000, now potentially $9,500,000, of upgrades as a result of a consent order signed with the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection and the settlement of a lawsuit with the Buzzards Bay Coalition.

Marion has approximately 20 acres of lagoons at Benson Brook, two five-acre lagoons and one 10-acre lagoon. They are used to hold treated waste and, at times, untreated waste when there are surges due to major rain events that are beyond the WWTP capacity, or when maintenance shuts down the WWTP.

The EPA, DEP, and Buzzards Bay Coalition claimed that waste water from the lagoons was leaching into the ground water and traveling to Sippican Harbor and Aucoot Cove to become a major source of nitrogen pollution. We disagreed with that premise at the time.

The terms of the consent order require the town to clean out and line five-acre lagoon #1, to clean out and go dry with five-acre lagoon #2, and to pond (the lagoon going dormant) 10-acre lagoon #3. The goal is to optimize the use of lagoon #1 and to use lagoon #2 only infrequently if lagoon #1 hits its capacity limits. By lining and optimizing the use of lagoon #1, the consensus was it would remove a potential source of infiltration into the ground water.

Our contractor now is at the point of removing the sludge at the bottom of lagoon #1 which has built up in the 50 years of its use. This is an expensive process because it is treated as hazardous material. Our contract was based on the need to remove an estimated 350 tons of sludge. Based on the work to date, it now is estimated that there may be 800 to 1,000 tons of sludge. The sludge in the bottom of lagoon # 1 is almost two feet thick, most with a consistency of peanut butter and the very bottom is solid.

This has two implications. First, removing this additional sludge will cost Marion an estimated $1.5 million, pushing the cost of the project to $9.5 million and forcing the town to borrow more money. Our Department of Public Works Superintendent is trying to develop options to mitigate this cost.

Second, you don't have to be a scientist or engineer to conclude that the odds that waste water was making its way through almost two feet of hard sludge (and the hard pan underneath) to pollute the harbor or Aucoot Cove is slim to none. It suggests maybe the whole project was unnecessary.

Given this new development, the state needs to finally step up to help pay for this project. We have been working with Representative Straus for three years to identify a potential funding source. He was successful in getting a line item in the 2018 Environmental Bond Bill to provide for up to $2 million in financial assistance for WWTP lagoon improvements.

Despite our repeated requests, the state has failed in the annual budgeting process to allocate any of this money to Marion. For two years in a row, we were told the first increment of $500,000 was not available this year but should be next year. Next year, FY2022, is coming up fast. Now, with the expected $1,500,000 additional cost for removing the sludge, Marion needs the full $2 million immediately.

We have tried repeatedly over the past three years to obtain financial support from the state. Each year, they said maybe next year. The state did not respond to our May 27 letter (see attachment) to Governor Charlie Baker. Recently, we have been in touch with Representative Straus and he has offered a video conference call with the Select Board to discuss the pressing need for financial support for the Sewer Enterprise fund.

In order for Governor Baker and Representative Straus to fully appreciate Marion's pressing need for this $2 million, we ask that you pick up a pen and write them both again. Please remind the state of the huge burden this estimated $9,500,000 project imposes on our only 1,700 rate payers. Please enclose a copy of this email with our May 27 letter to Governor Baker.

Below is the address for Representative Straus and the attachment above includes our May 27 letter to Governor Baker, which includes his address.

Representative William M. Straus state House
24 Beacon St.
Room 134
Boston MA 02133

Marion Board of Selectmen
Randy Parker
John P. Waterman
Norman A. Hills