A Vote For the Future of Orleans
Monday, October 16, 2017
Nauset Middle School
We hope Orleans voters approve the request, but, whatever happens, we want to thank our Selectmen, the town employees, the consultants, the engineers, and everyone who has worked tirelessly to help Orleans address our wastewater challenges. These individuals care deeply about Orleans, as do many of those who have their own reasons for opposing this request. It saddens us at times when voices become heated and we see hard working individuals being attacked personally. There should be no place in Orleans for these personal attacks, particularly on those who are volunteering their time or who are simply doing what the town has hired them to do.
Article 1 will provide $3.6 million to authorize the town to work with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and lay sewer pipes through downtown before DOT completes their work rebuilding those same areas. Orleans overwhelmingly approved DOT’s planned project three years ago and included an additional half million dollars to fund enhancements to approve our downtown streets and sidewalks.
For years now, study after study has concluded that Orleans will need to sewer our downtown area and the town unanimously supported a proposal to do so at Town Meeting two years ago. The concept behind Article 1 is simple and practical: Rather than have DOT rebuild our downtown streets and then tear them up to install sewer pipes, Article 1 proposes that we install the sewer pipes and then have DOT rebuild the streets.
The truth is, we simply don’t know. Three years ago, the EPA settled with the Conservation Law Foundation and set a framework for Cape Cod to implement the provisions of the Clean Water Act. The settlement, which gave the Cape several years breathing room, also called for the establishment of wastewater management agencies with adequate authority to address our wastewater issues. Since then, Orleans has continued to move forward and achieved good progress in our efforts. However, at the time of the settlement, the EPA, the Governor’s office, and the Conservation Law Foundation, all expressed their concern with the ability of towns on the Cape to consistently make progress, particularly when they would need to continually receive approval from annual or semi-annual Town Meetings.
At last spring’s Town Meeting, a motion from the floor eliminated most wastewater funding for this year and disrupted the town’s wastewater plans. More importantly, this sent a message to the regulators that our plans could drastically change at any time.
We’re confident the regulators would welcome a decision by Orleans voters to approve Article 1. However, we have no idea how, or if, they will respond if our voters reject the article. Many believe the regulators will never step in, despite their statements to the contrary. We certainly don’t know, but we’re equally certain that we’re rather not tempt fate and find out.
What Happens If Article 1 Passes?
If Article 1 passes, Orleans will go through the contracting process to award a contract to complete the sewer work. We expect the contract would be awarded by next spring and the work would begin in the spring, take a break for the summer, and continue through the end of 2018. As the work completes, DOT would step in and complete their effort which would take place through 2019 and possibly into 2020.
Again, we simply don’t know. The state does have a regulation that will prohibit Orleans from digging up the streets for five years after this project is completed. While some suggest the state may waive that requirement, we’re not sure why the state would do so or, more importantly, why voters in Orleans would reverse their position and approve a similar project at essentially twice the cost of completing the project now.
More importantly, we have no idea what steps would be next for Orleans. Does the town ignore the defeat and move ahead with our other efforts? Do we put all our plans for downtown on hold? Do we wait and see if the state and the courts act? We don’t know, but we expect it would take some time for Orleans to develop a “Plan B” for moving ahead.