Septic frustrations at Select Board meeting

May 23, 2023

Select Board member Shawn McDonald was up in arms at the May 22 Select Board meeting over what he described as the governor’s lack of response to town concerns regarding the cost of possible septic upgrades that some residents may be required to make.

McDonald and other town officials have questioned the cost of these upgrades and why the burden of making changes is falling on residents rather than being subsidized by state funding.

“I have called for a meeting with the governor …. and she is not listening to us,” said McDonald.

He called for more communication between the town and the governor’s office, even on a daily basis if necessary, to ensure the governor recognizes Dartmouth’s concerns regarding costs and accountability for potential regulation updates.

“This community has to be heard,’’ he said.

His remarks were in response to the MassDEP’s effort to reduce nitrogen entering the coastal waterways in Massachusetts by potentially requiring septic upgrades to residential properties.

The state is currently proposing that residents living along estuaries connected to Buzzards Bay, including Dartmouth, replace their septic systems with ones containing nitrogen-filtering technology as part of an effort to decrease pollutants in the region’s waterways.

At the Select Board meeting, residents expressed their support for the environment, however, one of their biggest concerns is the cost of the proposed solutions.

“We are at extreme risk of what I would call a fiscal hurricane, and this is a category five fiscal hurricane,” said Chris Fay, an impacted resident.

Residents could be required to install “active nitrogen removal systems” which generally cost between $10,000 and $15,000, according to the Buzzards Bay Coalition, but can cost up to $50,000 with an annual maintenance fee of $1,000 to $2,000.

About 2,700 homes in Dartmouth will be impacted, according to information provided by MassDEP at a 2022 meeting.

Residents and town officials feel that putting the burden on the residents is unfair when there are other factors contributing to the problem.

Composting, for example, has been cited as one source of the excess nitrogen, said Chris Michaud, Dartmouth public health director.

“We exposed [the state] to composting, and the ills and unintended consequences of composting on the environment with water quality,” said Michaud. “In October … we gave them analytical data that revealed that composting on one particular property … was pushing out levels of nitrogen well in excess of that of a septic system.”