By BOB DORFMAN (CapeCod Online) - November 27, 2007
As a resident of Cotuit I've been swimming, boating and nature walking in and around what are known as the Three Bays — Cotuit Bay, North Bay and West Bay — for four decades. The beauty and tranquillity of this area is the reason I chose to move here from Boston in 1997 and make the Cape my home. The Cape appeared to be a great place to establish roots and to raise a family.
As I transitioned from a summer and weekend Cape visitor to a full-time resident, it became clear to me that the Cape, beyond the beauty and tranquillity, had and has challenges. Those challenges need to be addressed by the adult generation of today to make sure the Cape is a place my children and generations to come will be able to enjoy, thrive and build a viable future here.
Remedying the wastewater infrastructure problem should be No. 1 on the list. A no-brainer. Try imagining the impact on our economy and property values of a Cape without the benefit of our oceans and lakes. This is what is at risk.
Since the 1960s the Cape has grown from 70,000 to 220,000 year-round residents. We have 100,000 year-round housing units and 50,000 vacation homes, and 1 million visitors per year. With few exceptions this growth had been possible through the use of on-site septic systems for wastewater disposal. The treated effluent from these systems is causing serious water-quality problems to the point that some of our beaches have needed to close temporarily and desirable life forms in the ocean are disappearing. Now it is clear that using these systems has created a wastewater problem requiring what may be a $3 billion solution.
Professionally, I have served as a financial adviser to investor-owned water utility companies in Connecticut and New Hampshire. The Clean Water Act of 1972, amended in 1977, sets standards for safe drinking water and has been the impetus for major upgrading of water treatment and wastewater facilities throughout the country. The act also has been the basis for litigation in our federal courts, which has guided and forced the cleanup of Boston Harbor and Chesapeake Bay.
I've heard Paul Niedzwiecki, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission, when asked about the wastewater infrastructure issue on Cape Cod, say, "We can address this issue voluntarily, and if we wait and the federal courts get involved, it gets more painful, as the cost of a solution is dramatically increased." Niedzwiecki's words are an inspiration to get busy.
What can be done, and by whom?
Each and every citizen of Cape Cod can look at his or her own practices like using toxic fertilizer for grass and gardens instead of benign organic fertilizers, or toxic pharmaceutical drugs, which end up in human waste, instead of benign alternatives.
Our politicians and citizens can encourage a "smart growth" strategy that allows for more density than currently allowed in areas where sewers are available or at least easily expandable.
Because this issue affects everyone on the Cape, all businesses, property owners and homeowners need to prepare themselves and be willing to pay for their fair share of the expense of building and maintaining wastewater infrastructure.
Supporting the work of the Cape Cod Water Protection Collaborative under the direction of Andrew Gottlieb is critical, because its mission is to unite our 15 towns for a regional approach, which will result in better economies of scale from a financing and operational point of view.
We need to create financing vehicles to support the needed improvements. Our state senator, Rob O'Leary, has proposed wastewater legislation intended to bring substantial state funding to the issue. Federal money may be part of the equation, although it is not currently readily available. Other proposed legislation, known as Chapter 40T, will allow low-cost revenue bonds based on betterment fees, not municipal credit and the necessary Proposition 2½ overrides, to provide money for wastewater infrastructure improvements.
In conclusion, we know we need a substantial investment in our wastewater infrastructure and that it is going to cost a substantial amount of money. How can we best finance these costs and fairly allocate the costs among businesses, property owners and homeowners? The answer to these questions will determine the long-term viability of our community.
Bob Dorfman of Cotuit is president of Dorfman Capital (www.DorfmanCapital.com), which specializes in raising capital for corporate, real estate and infrastructure projects.