At the general election on Tuesday, Falmouth voters will decide the fates of four major town projects. After passing through two levels of representatives, both the Board of Selectmen and last month's Town Meeting, these measures now require only the approval of a majority of Falmouth citizens.
Question 1 deals with the Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan, (CWMP) Falmouth's first step toward reducing the high levels of nitrogen in its coastal ponds and estuaries. The subject of much wrangling leading up to the April Town Meeting, the plan underwent several key revisions before its final form was passed unanimously there.
The CWMP, if passed tomorrow, will work along what have been called “parallel tracks.” Traditional methods of nitrogen reduction will work alongside studies and demonstration projects designed to investigate the potential of "alternative," less well-tested strategies.
Originally geared more toward the design of new sewer systems, which would replace nitrogen-leaking septic tanks in some parts of Falmouth, the revised CWMP places a greater importance on alternative methods, such as shellfish aquaculture, inlet widening, and composting and urine-diverting toilet systems.
Because the project's $2.77 million budget would replace old debt, which the town has recently paid off, it would not result in higher property taxes.
Question 2 earmarks $1.5 million for repairs to Falmouth's existing sewer network, notably lines in Woods Hole, where several mains have broken in recent years due to the system's age. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has mandated the repairs, which, like the CWMP, would not result in any changes to tax rates.
The other two ballot questions, however, do “have dollar signs attached to them,” as Vice Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Ahmad Mustafa has said.
Question 3 would set aside $800,000 for the preliminary design of a new filtration plant at Long Pond, the source of more than half of Falmouth's drinking water. Mass DEP is also involved in this issue, having mandated that the town provide proof that it is moving toward a solution to its drinking water problems no later than October 2012.
While some had suggested another round of chemical disinfection of the pond rather than a whole new filtration plant, Town Meeting members voted to go ahead with the latter, after concerns were raised about the possibly harmful effects of the disinfectants themselves, and after the Finance Committee called disinfecting “a temporary fix only for the water quality crisis.”
While disinfection would have cost around $6 million, and would have had to be repeated indefinitely over the coming years, the new plant is estimated to eventually cost between $25 and $45 million. But the question on tomorrow's ballot deals only with preliminaries, including in-depth studies of the water, which will help engineers determine the most useful methods of filtration for the proposed plant. Question 3 does not commit the town to any future construction.
Question 4 authorizes the town to raise $361,530 for needed repairs and replacements, including new cruisers for the financially strapped police department, and roof repairs to the North Falmouth Fire Station and Gus Canty Community Center. In rosier economic times, such items would most likely be incorporated into the regular town budget, but with revenues down, the funding would have to come from a slight, one-year-only raise in property taxes.
Though the four ballot questions are arranged in what the Board of Selectmen believes to be the order of priority, both the Board and Town Meeting have made it clear that they consider all four important, even vital. As Selectman Mary Pat Flynn has said, “They better all pass.” Falmouth voters will have the chance to decide on Tuesday.