Nearly ten months since residents voted against a town sewer, the Planning Commission presented the Malletts Bay Initiative (MBI) Wastewater Solutions report to the town Selectboard. Their recommendation? Sewer is still the best option. But despite a climactic lead-up to the commission’s decision, the room—packed to the gills with people—was surprisingly quiet.
Planning and Zoning Director Sarah Hadd and Planning Commission Chair Richard Paquette led the presentation at the meeting on Jan. 14, filling in the Selectboard on the Commission’s different research projects and studies, public outreach campaign, and workshops on alternative wastewater solutions. Other options that the Commission considered included land conservation, community septic, and ‘no action.’
“I was all on board with trying to find an alternative solution but we just couldn’t,” Paquette told the board, following a question from Selectboard member Herb Downing about whether the Commission’s decision was spoken with one voice. “That’s always frustrating,” Paquette said—wanting to find other solutions but finding that they’re unavailable.
Ultimately, the commission concluded that a sewer line was the least expensive of options they had considered; it met all of their requirements, including capacity and coverage; and it could provide additional opportunities for growth.
The meeting was filled with members of the Planning Commission, town staff, and community members, including a group of outspoken residents against the sewer who call themselves the Friends of Malletts Bay.
The group submitted a 37-page alternative proposal to the board which Chair Jeff Bartley called attention to and said the board would review at a later date. Their proposal calls for additional research and suggests creation of a conservation fund. Ultimately, the proposal consists of smaller scale solutions including a combination of community septic and land conservation, using a smaller number of properties than the selectboard has identified as high risk.
Only two residents stood up to speak, Representative Sarita Austin who also serves on the planning commission, and Clinton Reichard of the Colchester Historical Society.
Reichard expressed his dismay at the position the town is put in by the state; charged with finding a solution to pollution but unable to inspect residents’ wastewater systems without permission.
“How can the town do something when you aren’t allowed to investigate it?” he asked.
“Let’s assume that the voters aren’t ready for sewers in any form or fashion,” Downing proposed in a quiet voice, as if pointing to the elephant in the room could speak it into being. “If you had a magic wand, and the legislature would pass any law you’d like them to, what sort of enforcement would you create? What tools would you have in your toolbox from an enforcement standpoint?” he asked Hadd.
“I think you always need to be careful about wishing for the genie in a bottle, because of the unintended consequences,” Hadd said after a short pause. “What the state does for one child, it has to do for the others... And even if the state were to let us do more enforcement, we wouldn’t necessarily be equipped,” she continued, and it would change the landscape of enforcement across the state.
“It’s going to be an ongoing struggle unless you come up with a comprehensive solution,” Hadd said.