“Serious Implications” For Proposed Septic Changes in Falmouth

FALMOUTH – Falmouth officials expressed concerns about the state’s proposed changes to septic system laws at a recent meeting of the town’s select board. 

Acting Town Manager Peter Johnson-Staub said the proposed Title Five changes from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) “have very serious implications for Falmouth and Cape Cod.”

The changes, which are aimed at cutting down excess nitrogen in estuaries, would require towns to either apply for new watershed permits or have residents install expensive Innovative / Alternative septic systems (I/As).

Johnson-Staub said installations of I/As are “conservatively estimated” at around $30,000 per household. He added that there would be additional annual costs for maintaining the systems.

He noted town officials also have concerns about the capacity of private operators to install so many I/As in the five-year timeline the state is proposing. 

“But the real kicker is that even with this onerous cost, even if these I/As were all installed, it would not solve our environmental problem,” Johnson-Staub said. 

“They don’t remove enough nitrogen to restore the quality of our impaired embayments and estuaries. So, it’s really not a viable solution,” he added.

Select Board member Doug Brown said he believed there aren’t enough contractors on the Cape to do that amount of work and more professionals from other areas would have to be involved. 

“When you have that much construction happening at such a fast pace, the price escalates quickly,” Brown said. 

Brown estimated the price for installing an I/A system would be closer to $40,000 per household.

Select Board member Scott Zylinski questioned how the town’s board of health would be able to keep up with enforcing the new regulations without adding staff.

If the town decided to apply for watershed permits, Johnson-Staub said the 20-year timeline proposed by the state wouldn’t work for Falmouth.  

“We have almost half of all the impacted estuaries on the Cape, 14 of 31 are in Falmouth. What might work for Wellfleet, Truro, Brewster, it does not work for Falmouth,” he said. 

The acting town manager noted this option would also call for extensive sewering work within a 20-year timeline. 

“That’s ultimately going to need to be done anyway, but to be able to spread it out a little bit more will enable us to have much better plans and mitigate the disruption that it causes,” Johnson-Staub said. 

Board member Samuel Patterson said the town needs to be responsible about addressing the issue of protecting local waters, but it has to be done in a reasonable manner. 

Johnson-Staub said the town is in agreement of restoring local waters, citing the $24 million Falmouth approved for wastewater treatment facility improvements and its $60 million plan to add the Teaticket/Acapesket area to the sewer system. 

“The environmental issue is one that’s taken seriously by this community and we are taking action on it. That’s not our dispute with these regulations,” Johnson-Staub said.

The board agreed to have Johnson-Staub send letters containing Falmouth’s comments about the proposed changes to MassDEP. 

By Brian Engles, CapeCod.com NewsCenter

About Brian Engles

Brian Engles is a longtime local of the Cape. He studied Film & TV at Boston University and in addition to his role at Cape Cod Broadcasting Media, he also works as a music instructor and records original songs.

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