As the calendar changes from 2012 to 2013, many of the issues the Falmouth Board of Selectmen and Town Manager Julian M. Suso tackled the past year will carry over to this year. That means wind turbines, drinking water and wastewater will remain frontand center on the board’s list of priorities. Add in solid waste, stormwater run-off, funding capital needs, and improving their leadership, and selectmen will have a full set of tasks on their plate to tackle over the next 12 months.
“In regards to the big issues moving forward we have to find a solution to the wind turbines. We have an issue with drinking water, which is a majority priority of how we are going to move forward because of the state mandate that we have to do something,” Chairman Kevin E. Murphy said yesterday. “And we have the continuing matter of wastewater and the planning for that.” Ultimately, he said, the board will have to prioritize these and additional tasks before them. “That is a part of leadership,” he said. “We have to figure out what we need to do right away and where we have an opportunity to take a little breath and wait a little bit.”
Of these, the wind turbines have been the most contentious since the first, Wind 1, was erected in March 2010. The board will attempt to tackle that issue head on at its meeting on Monday, January 14, when it invites the Wind Turbine Options Process Group to report on its final recommendations for how the town should proceed with the machines. “When we get their report, at that point, is when the real work begins because the onus is on the selectmen to make a decision,” Selectman David Braga said. That decision could ultimately go to Town Meeting in April, and potentially voters in May. Whatever happens, Mr. Suso admitted, will not result in “a single consensus,” something that has been evident in the discussions had by the Wind Turbine Options Process Group since formed last May. “The board will be looking at all the alternatives brought forward and exercise their best judgment call,” Mr. Suso said.
With all the emotions the turbines conjure up, it is unclear whether neighbors will ultimately be satisfied with what selectmen decide. At least one board member, Douglas H. Jones, has confidence that selectmen can help resolve the issue in a positive manner. “Maybe I’m too much of an idealist, but I do think there’s a chance we can come together with a plan and not remain divisive over it,” he said. “I know it will not be a plan everybody is happy with, but I think there can be enough of a compromise and people will appreciate the effort that has been put into this.”
Also on the board’s radar is addressing the water quality issues at Long Pond and adhering to state regulations by either adding chemicals to the treatment process or installing a filtration plant there. The various scenarios range in cost from a low of $16.3 million to a high of $46.9 million. At the board’s last meeting two weeks ago, it was presented with a list of the options for improving the treatment at Long Pond, the town’s primary source of drinking water. Mr. Braga said he was struck by the fact that all treatments will include the use of chlorine. “I didn’t know every option included chlorine which is why I asked the question: ‘Does this mean we are getting away from copper sulfate?’ he said. “All you hear is we are moving away from chlorine and copper sulfate, but some options will even include copper sulfate.”
With the projected costs of the options, Mr. Braga raised concerns about the impact on taxpayers, particularly with the notion that the “Cape is becoming a retirement community, with a lot of people on fixed incomes; asking them to pay $47 million for a filtration plant, we may have to settle on something lower.”
The cost of resolving the turbine issue and addressing the town’s drinking water woes will only be complicated by the steps Fal- mouth will need to take to clean up its estuaries, from Little Pond to Waquoit Bay, as part of its Comprehensive Wastewater Manage Plan. Combined, Selectman Mary (Pat) Flynn said, the board could be looking at $100 million worth of infrastructure improvements. “That is something we have to think about,” she said. “That is almost as much as our operating budget for a whole year.” She said the county may end up playing a major role in the region’s wastewater efforts as it presses for financial commitments from the state and the federal government to help improve the health of the Cape’s estuaries.
Both she and Mr. Braga are concluding their terms as selectmen and neither were ready to announce their intentions, although Ms. Flynn, who has served a total of 15 years on the board, pushed for more political involvement from others. “We can’t keep having the same people running all the time,” she said. We need new people, fresh ideas, that sort of thing.”
As he completes his first term in office, Mr. Braga admitted that some of the issues facing the board can seem monumental. “At times it feels overwhelming, but we are
elected to resolve these issues with Julian and [Assistant Town Manager Heather Harper]’s help, and we owe it to the people to do it,” he said. Many residents, he said, do not hold the board in high regard, something he hoped selectmen could address. Perhaps the biggest way to do this, he said, is to work together with one another despite
individual differences. “Will it be easy? No,” he said. “Will it be unanimous all the time? No. We don’t want a board that agrees on everything, but we have to have respect and listen to others. The one thing I’m glad hasn’t happened is this politics of hate where if I disagree with you on an issue, I will try to tear down your character. The name-calling has got to stop. There’s nothing positive with that.”
Mr. Jones agreed that the board has to find ways to build trust with the public. The best way that he said it can do so was similar to what Mr. Braga had described: cooperatively and in a civil manner. As the freshman selectman, Mr. Jones said, he has found that his colleagues have done so, thus far, in his short time on the board. “I think the one thing we’ve been able to show is our willingness to work together,” he said. “That is an appropriate way to work and been a good model for us so far.”
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