New Loans Offered As Orleans Businesses Connect To Sewer

by Patrick Flanary
Sewer construction in downtown Orleans. Businesses can now get loans from local banks to help with the cost of connecting. FILE PHOTO Sewer construction in downtown Orleans. Businesses can now get loans from local banks to help with the cost of connecting. FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS – Last year, when pipes began replacing septic systems downtown, Hot Chocolate Sparrow was among the first businesses to hook up to public sewer.

“It’s been such a weight off my shoulders,” said the café’s co-owner Perry Sparrow, relieved from the task of pumping his old system twice a month. Now? “No issues, no smell, no septic trucks.”

And, as a bonus, no financial burden. Sparrow’s landlords, who are also his parents, covered the $40,000 hookup expense.

Business owners who lack that upfront help to connect to sewer can now apply for loans through three local banks. Homeowners have had the option of accessing financial assistance through the Cape Cod AquiFund, a Barnstable County zero-to-low-interest betterment loan program. But no such lending source existed for Orleans businesses until this summer.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) requires residential and commercial properties to abandon septic systems for municipal sewer connections, a transition designed to deter excess nitrogen from polluting local waters. For downtown Orleans, that hookup date is March 2025 — a deadline the town has already pushed back by one year.

Given the tight schedule to connect, the Orleans Chamber of Commerce in June emailed its 260 members with an unprecedented offer: Cape Cod 5, Seamen’s Bank and Rockland Trust would lend qualified business owners the cash to dig out their septic systems and put in sewer connections.

“The need was there to work with the business owners and not against them,” said Chamber executive director Judy Lindahl, who pitched the idea to the banks. “If you’re putting an obstacle in the way of businesses to get their sewers connected, you might have a problem.”

To be sure, the town sewer project has not been without obstacles. Early on, interruptions to business because of road closures and public confusion led Nauset Farms on Main Street to lay off most of its staff, owner Peter Gori told the select board in January.

Business owners must hire their own engineers and contractors to plan and install sewer connections, but progress has been plagued by availability demand. As of the town’s previous hookup deadline of March 2024, only about 20 percent of downtown properties had connected, the board of health reported. For that reason the town extended the deadline.

And then there’s the cost. State regulations require all properties to eventually decommission their wastewater treatment systems and connect to sewer. The price tag adds up quickly: $75 for a septic abandonment permit; $250 for a connection permit; up to $10,000 for engineering plans; and as much as $30,000 in construction and connection costs.

Penalties and enforcement are unclear. But if Orleans does not act, the town “could be put under an administrative order from MassDEP and could also face a lawsuit from the Conservation Law Foundation,” according to a town FAQ document.

Meanwhile, with most of the downtown phase of sewering complete, work has expanded to the Meetinghouse Pond area, known as Phase 2. Homes and businesses there are not yet facing a connection deadline due to ongoing construction, said interim health agent Kelly Messier. The project contractor, C.C. Construction, estimates completion by June 2026.

A Modest Response From Business Owners

Unlike Small Business Administration loans which are guaranteed by the government, these direct loans from the banks require monthly deductions from the borrower’s account.

For businesses that qualify for a commercial loan, Seamen’s Bank is offering up to $150,000 for a maximum of 15 years, if secured by real estate. If secured by business assets, a $25,000 loan is good for a 10-year term.

Cape Cod 5 is offering loans worth $100,000 for up to 10 years. The collateral is a lien on all business assets, which could include accounts receivable, inventory and equipment, said commercial loan officer Scott Vandersall. Commercial loans are “hopefully going to help clean up a problem that’s existed for a long time,” he said. “And it’s going to help the business owner with the value of their property.”

Rockland Trust is offering up to $100,000 for up to seven years, a loan secured against either real estate or business assets.

The banks declined to comment on how many businesses have applied, and how many loans have been funded. But thus far, with eight months to meet the hookup deadline, the response from business owners has been “modest,” said commercial loan officer Thomas Johnson of Seamen’s Bank. “We haven’t been inundated with requests on this yet.”

That could be because, right now, it’s the height of the season, with businesses at their busiest. But Lindahl says the commercial loan program will serve as a model for more towns as the Cape works to improve water quality.

“It’s going to take aches and pains for us to get there,” Lindahl said. “But we all know we’re doing a good thing for the environment.”