The proposed partnership designed to help Yarmouth, Dennis, and Harwich streamline and improve local wastewater treatment efforts is on its way to Gov. Baker’s desk for approval, now that the House and Senate have given the green light to the tri-town approach.
In a joint statement released Oct. 3, Sen. Julian Cyr (D-Truro), Rep. Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown), Rep. Timothy Whalen (R-Brewster), and Rep. Will Crocker (R-Barnstable) announced that the partnership had cleared the most recent legislative hurdle and awaits the governor’s signature.
“The towns of Dennis, Harwich and Yarmouth have worked hard to come up with an important inter-municipal partnership that will reduce excess nitrogen that is polluting the Cape’s marine environment, and provide cleaner water for their residents and visitors for decades to come,” the statement said.
As part of the tri-town partnership, each town would be required to install wastewater collection systems but would share a treatment facility, to be built in South Dennis. The DHY partnership is projecting a combined savings of approximately $100 million in capital costs, with the potential for additional savings in operating costs.
“The leadership in the three towns have done the hard work of putting the tri-town agreement in place,” the lawmakers said. “The commitment that the towns have demonstrated in coming together to solve the infrastructure challenge of treating wastewater is truly commendable.”
Yarmouth Selectman Mark Forest welcomed the news of the approval by the House and the Senate and called for collaboration as the three towns iron out the details, since the legislature does not specify how the partnership will work.
“The recent approval means everything gets ramped-up,” Forest said. “This is a significant development. It gives us the authority to determine how to bring down the cost, to identify capital savings and cost savings. It’s important. The next task for us will be to sit down with other selectmen and to arrive at a consensus on how to pay for it.”
Acting Assistant Town Administrator Rich Bienvenue said he anticipates that a broader working group of representatives and officials from each town will schedule working sessions to clarify details and finalize an agreement.
“From our perspective, this is a really big project with a certain level of complexity,” said Bienvenue. “This is a good solution. It’s do-able. There are always unanswered questions, but you have to move forward with confidence knowing that you have the right people working on it.”
The discussion about wastewater continues to receive heightened attention as water quality on the Cape in general comes under scrutiny. A report issued last week by the Association to Preserve Cape Cod highlighted the reality that many of the Cape’s water bodies suffer from unacceptable water quality. According to the report, which was two-years in the making, more than 2/3 of the Cape’s coastal embayments and 1/3 of its pond contain sub-par water quality due to excess nutrients.
Forest said forthcoming discussions will include establishing a wastewater stabilization, similar to funds that have already been established in Barnstable and Orleans.
“It is an appropriate fund to establish if you believe your town will be receiving additional revenues from short-term rental tax,” Forest said. “The challenge is that it is difficult to estimate what type of revenue is going to be received.”
Forest raised the subject of creating a wastewater stabilization fund in Yarmouth at the Sept. 24 selectmen’s meeting and said he will continue to speak on the issue.
“The conversation is long overdue. Now is the appropriate time to talk about how best to allocate funds to undertake this work,” he said. “Having such a fund could be crucial.”
Other funding specifics will also come under review once final approval of the agreement by the state is granted. The governor’s approval also would allow the towns to tap into a $1 million environmental bond bill to help with the project.
Additionally, the state signed legislation last December to create a 2.75-percent short-term rental tax, whose proceeds began depositing into a Cape Cod and Islands Water Protection Fund in July. Towns may choose whether to earmarked that new revenue stream for wastewater issues.
A public information session is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 21 at 6 p.m. in the Yarmouth Senior Center to address questions and comments from local residents.
“We’ve done outreach and will continue to do more,” said Bienvenue. “The three towns need to get together and pull everyone together.”