Wastewater lagoon project may run out of funds in December

Nov 17, 2020

MARION — The town’s wastewater treatment plant lagoon lining project was recently projected to cost $9.5 million instead of its original $8 million because the project’s engineer miscalculated how much sludge needed to be cleared from the bottom of the lagoon.

Well, the project may get stuck in the sludge until Spring Town Meeting if the town can’t secure additional funding from the state to keep the project going before the money runs out in the second week of December.

Town Administrator Jay McGrail said at a Nov. 17 Selectmen’s meeting that the town was approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection to use the final $1.2 million worth of funding left for the project to continue clearing out the estimated 850 to 1,000 tons of sludge in the bottom of one of the lagoons that has built up over the last 50 years. Originally, the project’s engineer, separate from the town’s engineer, estimated that there was 350 tons of sludge.

“It’s not a good scenario,” McGrail said. 

The remaining funding was supposed to go towards a different part of the project as laid out in the plans submitted to the DEP. Because the sludge cleaning is costing the town more than what it anticipated, they had to submit a change of plans to the DEP to use the remaining funds for the cleaning.

This increase in sludge will increase the cost of the project by an estimated $1.5 million. Thus far, the town has footed the $8 million bill which is being funded by the water/sewer enterprise fund. This is why water and sewer bills have recently gone up in the town.

When Select Board Chair Randy Parker visited the project site this past week, he said that there’s tons of sludge left, and some of it is even hanging from the walls of the lagoon.

McGrail added that crews are regularly hauling out sludge using bucket loaders that are constantly filled to the brim. 

The lagoon upgrade is 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 to line the lagoons.

The lawsuit claims that runoff from the lagoon was seeping into the ground and into the nearby Aucoot Cove. The town denies this claim.

The project involves draining the lagoon, removing the biosolid waste from the bottom, and relining with an impervious liner.

The town has repeatedly tried to secure funding from the state to no response.

Originally, the town sent a letter to Governor Charlie Baker and State Representative Bill Straus in to get help with funding the project. After that failed to gain momentum, Selectmen encouraged residents to send letters to them for funding. Now, the Select Board is looking to have Chair Randy Parker meet with Straus to have some sort of dialogue about the situation.

“It’d be good for him to know that after the $1.2 million, we’re going to hit a wall,” Vice Chair John Waterman said. 

If the project does not secure funding from the state by the second week of December, it will be put on pause until Spring Town Meeting.