STATE GOVERNMENT OFTEN seems distant from the everyday lives of Massachusetts residents, but that’s not true these days on Cape Cod.
The state Department of Environmental Protection has issued draft regulations that could require thousands of Cape residents to upgrade or replace their septic systems – or scrap their septic systems altogether and go with a county-wide watershed permit plan — to deal with the growing threat of nitrogen pollution.
It’s a costly proposition that has divided the region, prompted pushback on Beacon Hill, and stirred yet another debate about pollution and who should pay to deal with it. Of late, the debate has been pretty chippy.
The Codcast offers a balanced, nuanced look at the issue from two experts on the Cape who find a lot to agree about but nevertheless stake out different positions.
Alan McLennen, the chair of the Orleans Board of Water and Sewer commissioners and a member of the Orleans Select Board, and Stephen Rafferty, the vice chair of Falmouth’s Water Quality Management Committee, agree the nitrogen problem on Cape Cod is serious.
Wastewater from many Cape homes is run through septic systems and released into the nearby sandy soil. The nitrogen in urine travels through the earth into waterways, spurring the growth of algae that kills off plant and wildlife and leaves a foul smell.
Prodded by a lawsuit from the Conservation Law Foundation, the state Department of Environmental Protection has proposed regulations that would require individual homeowners to install new septic systems within five years or whole communities to come up with a plan to scale back nitrogen levels over 20 years.
Both McLennen and Rafferty say the home-by-home approach won’t work, in part because the new septic systems are expensive and largely ineffective. That leaves the community approach, which Rafferty says is basically a mandate.
“One of the things I find sort of unfair about the proposal they have is they know that no community is going to require all their homeowners to put new septic systems in,” Rafferty said. “If they had turned around and said you have to do these watershed permits and comply within 20 years that would be an unfunded mandate and the Legislature would have to find some funding mechanism.”
McLennen said Orleans, joined by the towns of Chatham, Harwich, and Brewster, developed the first watershed permit granted in Massachusetts and so far it’s worked well to clean up Pleasant Bay. The permit calls for reducing nitrogen levels through a combination of sewers, permeable barriers, and aquaculture to lower nitrogen levels naturally.
“We have met about 84 percent of the nitrogen removal that has to be taken care of so far. So we know the permitting process works,” he said. “We know how to do this.”
Rafferty applauds what Orleans and the other Cape communities have accomplished, but notes they have been at it for decades to deal with one estuary. He says Falmouth has 14 estuaries to permit, and work on 12 of them has barely started.
“The way this is unfolding for Falmouth is we probably are [going] to have to convince voters in the community of a major Proposition 2½ override [to pay for the clean-up] and then still not coming into compliance within the time frame they have,” he said.
“We’re willing, and I think other communities are willing, to sit down with the DEP and get their understanding of where they’re at and what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it as opposed to them saying here’s something you’re going to have to do which is an impossibility but if you don’t want to do the impossible you can do the difficult,” he said. “I’m cautiously optimistic the DEP will do some modifications before they promulgate final regulations.”
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STORIES FROM ELSEWHERE AROUND THE WEB
Lawmakers push for legislation to regulate the use of artificial intelligence. (Eagle-Tribune)
US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh touts his record as Boston’s mayor in a speech to a business group. His comments follow Mayor Michelle Wu’s State of the City speech in which she was sharply critical of the uneven benefits of development in the city over the last decade. (Dorchester Reporter)
Some residents of Windsor, a Berkshire County town of fewer than 1,000 residents, get their mail only a couple times a month because postal officials say the roads into town cannot accommodate their vehicles in the winter months. (Berkshire Eagle)
A new Utah law blocks minors from receiving gender-transition health care. (New York Times)
Bitter infighting is the ongoing storyline in the Massachusetts Republican Party as it prepares for tomorrow’s election of party chair. (Boston Herald)
The Supreme Judicial Court is preparing to take up a challenge to a decision by former attorney general Maura Healey that barred a ballot question restricting the amount of donations to super PACs. (Gloucester Times)
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire says he is considering a run for the White House. (CNN)
Legal sports betting arrives in Massachusetts tomorrow. (Boston Herald)
A Berkshire Eagle editorial says some economic development soul-searching is needed in the wake of Wayfair’s decision to close a call center in Pittsfield. The newspaper also wants to know what happens to the $31 million in tax credits the company received to expand its workforce in western Massachusetts and Boston.
Woburn teachers are hitting the picket lines, not the classrooms, this morning, as their union and the city’s school district failed to reach agreement Sunday on a new contract. (Boston Globe)
There has long been tension between the fishing industry and wind power sector, but a new partnership between Vineyard Wind and an entity representing New Bedford marine interests aims to ensure that logistical needs of both sectors can be met in an increasingly busy New Bedford Harbor. (Standard-Times)
At Gloucester High School, work begins on a flood barrier to protect the stadium from flooding and high tides. (Gloucester Times)
Dan Kennedy tweaks the Boston Herald for boasting about its role in removing gun records from public view. (Media Nation)
Alice Wolf, a one-time Cambridge mayor who went on to be a leading progressive voice in the state House of Representatives, died at age 89. (Boston Globe)