Opinion: Show us the money for wastewater regionalization
Editor’s note: The Buzzard’s Bay Coalition presented plans for a regional wastewater treatment solution at a Bourne Planning Board Meeting on Jan. 26.
To the Editor:
The Buzzards Bay Coalition (BBC) continues to promote the idea of a regional wastewater solution centered at the Wareham plant on the Agawam River, that would treat waste from Bourne, Wareham, Plymouth, Marion, and Mass Maritime Academy. Conceptually it’s a good idea, as waste treatment plants have high fixed costs and are increasingly required to make large capital investments to meet new environmental regulations. Scale is important. The large plants treat more waste and are able to spread the high fixed costs over more ratepayers, lowering the average cost per rate payer.
It is an unfortunate characteristic of Marion’s relationship with BBC that whenever we tell them we can’t afford something they interpret it as Marion not wanting to do it. BBC may not want to hear that towns such as Marion have serious financial constraints and face a huge backlog of deferred infrastructure projects. Yes, BBC has helped us with the studies over the years. But we don’t need more studies. We desperately need help paying for our large capital projects such as lining lagoon #1 at our Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP).
BBC reportedly has spent over $700,000 on feasibility studies related to regionalizing waste treatment in Wareham. None of us would spend thousands of dollars designing a house we couldn’t afford. We would give the architect a budget and probably have one or more financing sources identified, if not committed in advance.
It is time for BBC to put the brakes on studying and promoting the idea of regionalization, and to do some serious financial analysis. They need to answer the question: is regionalization a pipe dream or anchored in financial reality?
Based on the information developed to date, they should be able to determine the rough order of magnitude costs (1) for installing a pipe to transport waste from Marion to Wareham, (2) for expanding the Wareham plant, and (3) for building a new outfall from the Wareham plant to a location on the Cape Cod Canal. One of their funded studies has already estimated the cost of a pipe to transport waste from Marion to Wareham at $20M.
Once all estimates are available, they need to earnestly look for sources of federal, state and other money to help participating towns pay for a project of this magnitude. Simply saying the State loves the project is insufficient, more so in today’s environment. The towns will have to fund design, construction, and permitting over a period of years before the expanded facility is constructed, operational, and producing income. Paying for construction, as it is completed, will be above and beyond whatever funds towns currently are expending for waste treatment.
More than once, we questioned the affordability with BBC. Their response was: When the time comes, Marion will have to decide whether it wants to participate or not. That’s not good enough. Marion will need significant financial help to participate in regionalization. If Marion does not participate, the cost of expanding the Wareham plant and of building the new outfall to the canal will drop very little, so, if Marion opts out, the cost to Bourne, Wareham, Plymouth and Mass Maritime will go up.
The Wareham plant sits on the Agawam River. We have expressed our concern to BBC, on several occasions, about its exposure to sea level rise and storm surge flooding. Towns choosing to participate in regionalization don’t want to be saddled with the additional cost of reconstructing or moving the Wareham plant to protect it based on 50-year projections for sea level rise. BBC has yet to address the threat of sea level rise for us.
In a recent article, a BBC official was quoted as saying that Wareham “out-treats” every other sewer system in the region. That is simply not true. In 2020, Marion’s WWTP average discharge Nitrogen concentration was 2.8 mg/l (milligrams per liter) and Wareham’s WWTP average discharge Nitrogen concentration was worse at 3.6 mg/l. Marion is out-treating Wareham. The standard of treatment thus is not a justification for Marion to hook into Wareham.
The question we all need to ask: Is BBC designing a beautiful new house that we can’t afford and in a location that will be exposed to storm surge and sea level rise?