For the last few years, we have been politely asking everyone in charge at the Town of Barnstable to allow homeowners in areas the sewer won’t reach for a decade or more to install, at our own cost, an I/A septic system to speed up the attack on nutrient pollution. And with each phone call, online meeting, or email request, we’ve gotten nothing from the Town except “We will keep all options open as technology evolves.” Well, as we’ve said many times on this blog, Shoestring Bay can’t wait 10 years, or even five years, before nitrogen pollution kills our beautiful but damaged Bay.
So we were heartened when four Mashpee elected town officials decided that waiting for sewering in their town wasn’t good enough. These officials have proposed a “coordinated approach to reducing nutrient loading that would require certain residents to install innovative/alternative, or I/A, septic systems to work in tandem with the town’s sewer system project.” [Read the article: Mashpee Enterprise, April 1, 2022]
The proposal calls for any Mashpee resident or business that pulls a permit to build, knock down, or replace a structure, would have to replace their existing septic system with a nutrient-reducing system. One of the Mashpee leaders, Andrew Gottlieb, asked, ““What do we do with the septic systems that are going to remain in place over the long term as more phases of the wastewater management program are implemented? …Is it appropriate to continue to have high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus that come from those septic systems contributing to our waterways?”
This I/A mandate would go beyond what we have asked Barnstable to do…allow us to voluntarily install an I/A system and opt out of the sewer when it comes in 10+ years. The Mashpee proposal faces a stiff headwind of opposition from all kinds of stakeholders and may ultimately look a lot different than in its present form. But at least they have the courage to address the elephant in the room – sewering is not the only answer and it takes too long – and we salute Mashpee’s officials. And to Barnstable Town Manager Mark Ells, please think big, think bold, and let us start saving our waterways now.