Our critical infrastructure should have priority

Apr 24, 2018

To the Editor:

Our water supply is at risk. Our sewer infrastructure is failing. Our waste treatment facility is in danger of being shut down by the Environmental Protection Agency. And, our roads and sidewalks are crumbling. These sectors all fall under what our Department of Homeland Security calls “critical infrastructure.”

Does anyone remember the “Village Infrastructure and Capital Improvements” project? It was proposed in February 2013 to repair or replace sewer pipes, improve drainage, rebuild sidewalks and curbing, and resurface roads in the village with a total projected cost of approximately $19 million.

Phase 1A (Ryder Lane, South Street, and parts of Spring St.) was completed in 2014 for approximately $5 million. The entire project, phases 1A through 4, was originally scheduled to be completed in 2021, but work on the project was suspended after 90% of the design work was done for phase 1B (Front St., Main St., Cottage St., Hiller St. and Water St.). According to the Town’s 2016 Annual Report, it was put on hold until “the Town resolves the cost issues concerning the new NPDES permit.”

NPDES stands for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System and is the permit which is required to operate a waste treatment plant. While work on the Village Infrastructure project was stopped out of legitimate concern for the costs the Town is facing to upgrade our waste treatment facility, the Selectmen permitted the Townhouse House Building Committee (“THBC”) to proceed to evaluate options for renovating the Town House. In doing so, the THBC spent over $450,000 on professional fees. It came up with an initial renovation plan with an estimated cost of over $12 million. Because of pushback from concerned citizens, the THBC eventually scaled cost back to the current estimate of $8 million.

Our selectmen think renovating the Town House should take priority over repairing our village infrastructure, but that the Village Infrastructure project should not proceed until we clarify the cost of upgrading our waste treatment facility to meet new EPA permit requirements. How can concerns about the cost of implementing the NPDES requirements hold up the Village Infrastructure project, but not the Town House renovation? It mystifies me how our Selectmen can call this getting our priorities right.

Here is what should take priority over the Town House renovation:

  1. We need to proceed with urgency to build an emergency connection into the Wareham water system between Point Road, County Road, and Blackmore Pond Road in Wareham, so, if one of the two wells producing most of our water fail for whatever reason, the Town has water.
  2. We need to provide the public a clear roadmap for what is required to upgrade our waste treatment facility including a timeline and associated costs. At last count, there were 1,677 properties connected to the sewer. These property owners will be hit hard by the cost of meeting new permit requirements for our waste lagoons and they deserve to know that cost before being asking to vote on the Town House renovation.
  3. We need to provide the public with an aggressive plan for significantly reducing storm water infiltration into our sewer system. This plan needs to commit to a time frame and detail the cost of completing this work.
  4. The Town needs to restart the Village Infrastructure project as soon as possible. Repairing and replacing the sewer pipes in the village will play a significant role in reducing storm water infiltration. Plus, our roads and sidewalks in the village are an embarrassment. The current Town plan is to not resurface village roads until the sewer and drainage problems are dealt with as part of the Village Infrastructure project, which requires digging up the streets. Our village roads look bad now, but just wait. The February 2018 Capital Improvements plan calls for restarting the Village Infrastructure project in FY 2024.

The Selectmen also are the Sewer and Water Commissioners. It is their job to set priorities and they currently are putting the renovation of the Town House ahead of maintaining and upgrading our critical infrastructure.

John Waterman