By Melissa Fales
WARE – The Board of Selectmen held a public hearing July 21 to consider proposed updates to the town’s sewer bylaw and regulations. Attorney George A. Hall, Jr. of the Cambridge firm Anderson and Kreiger explained these updates are needed because the town’s current regulations, adopted in 1984, are not compliant with current Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) requirements. “Federal requirements have changed quite a lot since the mid-1980s,” Hall said.
Under the charter, the selectmen have the authority to change the sewer regulations as the town’s Water and Sewer Commissioners. However, the proposed amendments to the town’s sewer bylaw would need to be approved by voters at a town meeting. This public hearing was the first step in the process of getting the amendments on the warrant for the Special Town Meeting in the fall.
The sewer bylaw outlines the town’s authority to levy assessments and its basis for making assessments for sewer extensions. According to Hall, there are two methods for towns to determine betterment fees for a new sewer extension; one simply uses straight footage and the other uses a formula that factors in development potential. Ware currently uses, and will continue to use the frontage method.
One proposed change to the sewer bylaw is to require a signed petition of at least 75 percent of the homeowners in a neighborhood before a sewer line is extended into that neighborhood, unless an exception is needed in case of a public health emergency or a state or federal requirement. Hall also recommended including a provision that would offer some financial relief to elderly residents who must pay a betterment fee.
The most significant proposed change to the bylaw would require homeowners to pay 100 percent of the cost of entering into the sewer system. The current bylaw requires homeowners to pay just 50 percent of the cost, which Hall said was unrealistic for the times. “In the current economic climate there are very, very few towns that can afford to do that,” Hall said. “Most towns are expecting the residents to pick up 100 percent.” He acknowledged that residents might balk at asking homeowners to assume the full cost, making it harder for the bylaw to be approved at town meeting.
Many of the proposed changes to the sewer regulations are mandatory operational E.P.A. requirements. “Another important piece of this was to conform the enforcement provisions to those established by the E.P.A. and set penalties consistent with Massachusetts General Law,” said Hall.
Town Manager Mary T. Tzambazakis asked if Hall could provide a comparative analysis sheet, showing the differences between the old regulations and the new ones being proposed. Hall said he could provide that information, but said the old regulations were so out of date, they effectively started from square one, working with a list of recommendations from engineering firm Weston and Sampson of Foxboro.
The 49 pages of proposed regulations contain 17 sections including general provisions that apply to all users, definitions and abbreviations. The regulations outline everything from sewer connection permits to pre-treatment of wastewater and from compliance monitoring to judicial enforcement. The proposed draft currently lacks specifics that have yet to be determined by the town, such as the fees for permits and entry into the system.
At the suggestion of Selectman William R. Braman, the proposed changes to the bylaw and regulations will be turned over to Department of Public Works Superintendent Gilbert St.George-Sorel and Tzambazakis who will work collaboratively with the sewer committee to review them and work out the specific fee structure. The public hearing will be continued when a final draft of the proposed changes is ready. Tzambazakis suggested a 30 day timeframe for that task.