Selectmen Support Pleasant Bay Regional Changes

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Pleasant Bay

Pleasant Bay, as viewed from Nickerson Neck, Chathamport.  KAT SZMIT PHOTO

HARWICH — Selectmen will be putting two articles on the warrant this spring related to the Pleasant Bay Resource Management Plan, including the establishment of an intermunicipal agreement for a regional watershed permit with the towns of Chatham, Orleans and Brewster.

Pleasant Bay Alliance coordinator Carole Ridley has been before selectmen a couple of times in the past few weeks defining the steps the town must take to ensure protection of the health of the bay. Ridley pointed out the four towns adopted a resolution last June agreeing to jointly address problems of nutrient loading in the watershed.

Each town committed to work with the other towns, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Cape Cod Commission to “pursue efficiencies and cost savings through coordinated implementation.” They also agreed to participate in a watershed permit pilot project, the objective of which is to develop a draft permit and associated documentation for a targeted watershed management plan. The plan will include composite analysis of existing local plans, a watershed permit and an intermunicipal agreement (IMA) to obtain the permit.

Ridley and Brian Dudley of DEP were before the board three weeks ago discussing the pilot permit and the goal of reducing nitrogen enrichment in the bay. Ridley said each town is expected to do its share, including making an investment to address this problem.

In order to obtain a watershed permit, a four-town intermunicipal agreement will need to be executed that confirms each town's nitrogen removal share and its intended implementation schedule, giving each town the assurance that all towns are working together and that improved water quality will not be delayed by one town's inaction, Ridley stated in a memo to selectmen.

By accepting the permit, towns will be eligible for low-interest state revolving fund financing for non-traditional technologies; will have a high priority for revolving fund financing of both traditional and non-traditional technologies; will get special considerations for other grant programs; have an assured procedure for documenting nitrogen removal credits toward total maximum daily loads compliance; and freedom from DEP enforcement actions related to current excessive nitrogen load, provided that implementation schedules are met.

Last week Ridley provided selectmen with a draft article should they want to take the IMA agreement to town meeting for approval.

Selectman Larry Ballantine, who serves as the town's alternate member on the Pleasant Bay Alliance steering committee, said the town should not be trying to address the nitrogen reduction issue in the bay in isolation.

“Moving ahead, working together we save money and can go after the SRF funding,” Ballantine said.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Michael MacAskill wanted to be sure each towns' comprehensive wastewater management plan (CWMP) schedule would be the same as the targeted watershed management plan (TWMP) so the town is not dumping more money on top of what's already been spent on the CWMP.

Ridley said the implementation schedules are an important part of the watershed plan, adding that the TWMP is not a new plan, but an elaboration of the existing town plans. Selectmen supported moving forward with the IMA article after some minor adjustments recommended by town counsel are made.

The town has approved the Pleasant Bay Resource Management Plan every five years since 1998. The plan will require another update this year. The purpose of the plan is to promote the natural resource health and public enjoyment of Pleasant Bay, and the 2018 update will continue to facilitate watershed-based collaboration to address nitrogen loading and promote coastal resiliency by protecting healthy coastal processes.

Ridley put forward a couple of changes to the plan, including altering the make up of the steering committee, which has one member and an alternate member from each of the four towns. In the proposal the alternate member will become a full member, so each town will have two representatives on the steering committee. Selectmen supported the proposal.

The other issue related to longevity. The alliance and plan have been reaffirmed every five years since 1989, but the proposal recommends the renewal be done every 10 to 20 years. She said a 20-year permit would align with the planned Pleasant Bay watershed permit.

Ballantine said he has pushed for the 20-year renewal to align with the watershed permit. He said the town will still have a say each year in approving the alliance's budget. Selectmen supported the 20-year period. Both articles will go before voters in the spring.

Ridley gave her presentation to the Chatham selectmen last week. Given the complexity of the proposed agreement, board members voted to refer the document to town counsel for review. The board will then decide whether to approve the agreement themselves or bring it to Chatham’s annual town meeting for a vote. Selectman Dean Nicastro said he favors the latter approach, even if a full town meeting vote is not strictly needed. He likened the situation to the intermunicipal agreement with Harwich over sharing Chatham’s wastewater treatment plant, which was approved at town meeting even though selectmen could have made that decision unilaterally.

Alan Pollock contributed to this report.