PROVINCETOWN — The town’s Sewer Team is ready with a plan for an expansion of the sewer system that would hook up almost every property in town by 2030. The $75 million project would be the largest in the history of the town, said Dept. of Public Works Director Rich Waldo, but it would ultimately be funded by $25 million in expected grants and $50 million in assessed “betterments,” or connection fees, to new users.
The plan, presented to the select board on May 9, would need to be approved at a fall town meeting so that grant applications could be pursued in 2023, according to Waldo, Town Engineer James Vincent, and longtime wastewater consultant John Goodrich. Construction would begin in 2024.
Provincetown’s sewer system currently serves 1,050 properties, with a maximum daily flow of 1.1 million gallons of wastewater. The expansion would add a further 750,000 gallons per day of treatment capacity and connect another 1,050 existing properties, leaving out only the Provincetown airport, some Cape Cod National Seashore buildings, and the Dunes’ Edge Campground on Route 6.
The proposed expansion would also end the town’s “checkerboard” policy, under which some property owners can opt out of connecting even if sewer lines pass through their neighborhoods. Maintaining opt-out rights would make the cost too high for those who wanted to connect, Waldo said.
“It is not feasible to expand the sewer system without assessing betterments to all abutters,” Waldo told the select board. If the current approach were to remain in place, Waldo said, “the betterment rate for an expansion plan would be at least double the current rate, and then fewer property owners would be interested.
“The goal of the Sewer Team has always been to ensure that the cost of a sewer betterment would be competitive with the cost of an on-site Title 5 septic system,” said Waldo. Financed over 20 years, the cost of a new sewer betterment would be about $1,000 per year for a three-bedroom house, Waldo said, and about $5,600 per year for a 50-seat restaurant.
The current funding environment is the reason the town should act now, Waldo told the board. The newly established Cape Cod and Islands Water Protection Fund, which is funded by a surcharge on bookings in hotels and short-term rentals, should contribute 25 percent of the total project cost.
In addition, grants currently available from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Act would bring the amount covered up to 33 percent of total cost. The Infrastructure Act money will be available for only a few years, Waldo said, which is why the Sewer Team recommended a fall town meeting to authorize the plan.
Physically, the plan involves the installation of a third tank at the wastewater treatment plant on Route 6, the addition of a wastewater substation on the soccer field at Route 6, and the replacement of the leaching fields in that area with new ones at the town-owned Motta Field. There would also be 10 new underground pump stations along the expanded system.
The new wastewater treatment costs come to $25 million. It is the expanded collection system, spread throughout the town along and underneath the streets, that makes up the bulk of the total cost.
The expanded treatment and disposal systems should meet the town’s needs through 2040, including new growth, Waldo said.
“Sewer is needed for housing,” Waldo told the board, and “the plan is designed to support affordable, community, and workforce housing.”
Housing density is limited in parcels that don’t have sewer access, such as the Maushope Senior Housing project on Harry Kemp Way. The Provincetown Housing Authority is seeking a sewer hookup for that site so it can increase the number of residential units there.
Relocating the wastewater leaching fields from Route 6 to Motta Field will help support improvements to the field, said Goodrich, and will also “free up parcels along Route 6 for housing or other municipal uses.”
The post-expansion treatment capacity of 1,875,000 gallons per day would be 200,000 gallons over the total wastewater production of all existing properties right now, and 100,000 gallons over the expected wastewater production in 2030.
“In the future, the town may be able to make additional peak flow improvements,” said Goodrich. Residential areas have displayed less seasonality than the original properties that were hooked up along Commercial Street, he explained. As the expansion hooks up even more residential neighborhoods, seasonality could decrease even further, and “the treatment facility may be able to accept as much as two million gallons per day,” Goodrich said.
The Sewer Team recommended holding a town forum on the proposed expansion in June, and another in October. Town meeting voters would have to approve the project with the understanding that it’s going to be paid for by betterments assessed to users, said Waldo — but the top-line number in the town meeting article would still be $75 million.
Jonathan Sinaiko, chair of the water and sewer board, told the select board there should be specific outreach to owners of newer Title 5 septic systems. “We need to target the people who will push back — the people who paid for Title 5s and are invested there — and see if we can find a way to bring them on board and eliminate that issue.”
As presented, the expansion plan would assess the first half of the betterment payment to most unconnected properties in 2024, and the second half at the time of connection to the system, between 2024 and 2029. Property owners with septic systems installed after 2010 would be able to delay their first betterment payment until 2030.
The select board was not sanguine about further concessions.
“How much are we talking about?” asked John Golden. “Because if it’s an additional $1,000 per year, and they’re gonna push back on a $75 million project, then I’m not really interested, because this is bigger than $1,000 a year.”
“You still have to deal with those people,” said Sinaiko.
“Sure,” said Golden. “People 20 years ago gave us the checkerboard system, which gave us what we’re living with right now, where Conwell Street doesn’t have a sewer line, and it has failed cesspools, building after building after building.”
“Twenty years later,” said board chair Dave Abramson, “I think with people’s attitudes toward clean water and sea level rise, we have a much better chance of people deciding to leap and do what’s best for the long-term health of the town.”
The board voted unanimously to direct the Sewer Team to continue preparing for a fall town meeting vote.