Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Barnstable County Wastewater Authority: A pipe dream?


Things I know:

1) Managing wastewater on Cape Cod is a lightning rod issue.

2) A number of areas have been identified as moderate to critical in terms of nitrogen loading and deterioration of water quality.

3) Watersheds do not respect town borders.

4) Some mitigation projects have been completed, some are in progress, and some have been met with a big fat “No” at the polls.

5) None of these projects have benefited from significant state or federal funding.

6) If we continue to go at it town by town, it is unlikely that securing state or federal funding will be possible.

7) We don’t need a “big pipe,” one end of the Cape to the other sewer system. (I’m pretty sure I “know” this.)

We do need cooperation on a regional level that focuses on watersheds. Whether this “cooperation” should be in the form of a number of independent watershed districts with membership by the affected/contributing towns, or in the form of a larger countywide organization is not yet clear, but the promise of matching funding from outside the county may well be a key factor that informs our approach.

My understanding is that federal funds for wastewater infrastructure projects are currently non-existent. With a $1.6 billion gap to close in the state’s fiscal year 2013 budget, it’s a stretch to think that the state will be rolling out grants anytime soon either. For this reason, the rest of my article is an exercise in speculation; that is, I assume availability of federal and state subsidies and that a countywide authority wins justification on cost efficiency grounds.

If, at the end of an extended period of public outreach and input, it is decided that creating a countywide wastewater authority is necessary to gain state and federal funding and to garner efficiencies in building, managing and funding our multi-billion dollar wastewater infrastructure, then I’ve got a giant hairball in my throat that won’t go away unless we create this entity with some strong conflict-of-interest policies.

In order to keep the entire process as transparent as possible and to avoid a whole litany of potential conflicts of interest and what some may perceive as "cronyism," I will push very hard to ensure that the enabling legislation for the authority have a clear ban on the hiring of:

1) Anyone who has been on a Massachusetts town, county or state payroll (including other authorities and quasi-government agencies) earning an annual salary of more than $50,000 in any calendar year within the three-year period prior to the date the authority's enabling legislation is signed by the governor, and

2) Anyone who has been a consultant to Barnstable County or any of its 15 towns or any organizations/boards/collaboratives that operate with personnel described in 1) above, and who has personally or through an entity earned more than $50,000 within the three-year period prior to the date the authority's enabling legislation is signed by the governor, and

3) Anyone who is a relative, as defined in MGL 268A, of a person barred from being hired in 1) or 2) above.

The above restrictions would not prevent consultants, scientists, engineers, etc., from continuing to work as independent contractors for the newly established authority.

So I ask everyone this question: Without the incentive of creating a treasure trove of high-paying jobs for current employees of and consultants to the county, would the effort to create a wastewater authority lose momentum?

4 comments:

  1. You have neglected to take the Pledge to Adopt Adaptive Wastewater Management Practices as recommended by the Barnstable County Peer Review Panel recently.http://www.ccwpc.org/images/mep_panel_report_12302011.pdf

    Go to Part 7, Page 31 to the "Recommendations for Path Forward." Do you honor and respect the advice of the best and brightest?

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  2. Septic systems discharge nitrate (not total nitrogen, etc) into the groundwater and then into the estuaries. The question then to ask is what are the levels of nitrate in the estuaries that you are concerned with. This is answered by about 10 to fifteen numbers, not a flurry of manipulative arguments involving total nitrogen, TMDLs, eel grass etc. When you do this you get quite a different picture of the effect of septic systems on estuaries.

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  3. Along the lines of developments....

    Apparently the former TOS planner, Greg Smith, whose employment with the town ended abruptly last October- has recently resurfaced. His linked-in page ( http://www.linkedin.com/pub/gregory-smith/12/544/705 )states that he is the Planning Consultant at Howland Development since last October too. Howland Development is the group attempting to put in large solar panel systems and solar panel farms in town. This is the same planner who just tried to push through the new solar panel bylaws in town. Now Howlands own attorney is trying to push the same zoning bylaws through again. 6 degrees of separation is much further away than this. This is the fox in the hen house. The Planning Board meeting is next Tuesday, March 20 for the solar panel bylaw changes (http://www.sandwichmass.org/PublicDocuments/2012-03-20%20Planning%20Board%20Agenda.pdf).

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  4. Their going to raise my taxes by gallons of cups of coffee. They are going to pay a surprise $300K for overtime which will impact my taxes at some point. They argue with each other. They raise my dump payments. They propose more fees to send my children to school. They don't have an alternative to the light plant. Watch out folks, when the tax bills are like those of Long Island in Sandwich while much less expensive on the rest of the cape, people will stop moving in, then we will get even more taxes and a deteriorating tax base. Watch out folks, watch out. Remember what I have written, watch out.

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