Town looks to form coalition against proposed septic changes

Jan 9, 2023

Town officials on Monday announced their intentions to build a coalition of coastal communities to oppose proposed changes to the state’s septic regulations.

At the Select Board’s Jan. 9 meeting, members unanimously agreed to invite officials from nearby towns to meet some time prior to the Department of Environmental Protection’s informational session at UMass Dartmouth on Jan. 18.

“I want to go from Seekonk to Wareham,” Board Member Shawn McDonald said. “It should be all of Bristol County and part of Plymouth County. Invite the Cape.”

This decision comes as local officials have been at odds over the necessity of such regulation changes, along with what they say has been a lack of transparency from MassDEP. In particular, they have voiced displeasure with the department leaving local municipalities out of its decision-making process.

According to a list of the subcommittee members on the town website, out of 30 members listed, 12 — more than a third — are MassDEP officials.

The rest consist of real estate developers, engineers, environmental groups, and State Sen. Julian Cyr (D-Truro).

“MassDEP doesn’t care,” Public Health Director Chris Michaud said. “They’ve excluded us from the public process. I guess the only people in the commonwealth they solicit comment from must be the [Conservation Law Foundation].”

Michaud is referencing that the regulations were proposed after the foundation sued the state for failing to limit nitrogen pollution on Cape Cod. Michaud said towns like Dartmouth are being bunched into the results of a lawsuit that they had no part in.

The state, meanwhile, argues that the changes are done in an effort to decrease the amount of nitrogen entering the region’s waterways. Under the proposal, MassDEP proposes towns either apply for “watershed permits” or have septic system owners upgrade their tanks to ones using “best available nitrogen technology” — which is estimated to cost upward of $15,000 per installation.

According to MassDEP, there are about 2,700 homes connected to septic systems in the Dartmouth watersheds that would be affected by the regulation change.

Getting other South Coast towns together, Select Board Chair David Tatelbaum said, would show MassDEP that their solutions do not apply equally to all communities.

“Their strategy [is] trying to bunch us together with the sand-filled geology of Cape Cod,” he said.

Ideally, this regional meeting would occur some time prior to the state’s informational session.

“A show of force at the meeting would help,” Tatelbaum said. “We hope that we fill the place so much that we have to stand outside.”

MassDEP’s informational session will be held Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 6 p.m. at UMass Dartmouth’s Marketplace conference hall, which is located near Lot 5. Those who cannot attend in person can tune in via Zoom by visiting

“We’ve got a short-term window here,” Tatelbaum said.