Westerly town councilors on Monday will discuss and potentially vote on a change to the town’s master plan for sewer infrastructure with a focus on the Misquamicut area.
A public information hearing is intended to address an oversight that occurred after an amendment to the Wastewater Facility Plan was approved in 2015 but never adopted.
The amendment deletes any reference to a municipal sewer system being extended to the beach area. This revision is important to residents of the area because it will make them officially eligible for low interest state loans for the installation of individual septic treatment systems known as denitrification systems.
Such systems are recognized by many as the state-of-the-art treatment option for sewage in coastal areas. As long as there is an indication in the plan that sewers could be extended to Misquamicut the state views the area as eligible for a town funded system and would therefore not extend the low interest loan program to property owners in that area.
As noted, town leaders in 2015 agreed to the revision in the wastewater plan — the Planning Board has made a favorable recommendation on the deletion — ending years of debate about whether the beach areas should get sewers. But the detail work of changing the language never happened. Kudos to Town Engineer Sheila McGauvran, who started her job in January, for bringing this oversight to the council’s attention.
While the wastewater plan is under discussion, the council should consider also revising the Comprehensive Plan, which includes a reference to the sewer system having adequate capacity to handle an extension of the system to Misquamicut.
Years ago some advocated for sewers in the beach area as a way to bring in more tourism business and as a way to clean up the beach area, since repeated flooding causes problems with older, individual septic systems.
But the concept of sea-level rise and storms that have left the beach in tatters have changed that thinking to a large degree. Climate and environmental protection experts are strongly recommending less infrastructure in the areas of barrier beaches such as Misquamicut. And the five-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy last month renewed talk about the damage coastal areas can expect in the future.
The council should approve the amendment and delete the reference to sewers in Misquamicut. Researchers from URI and beyond have offered plenty of evidence of more damage in the offing for such areas, and adding a municipal sewer system in Misquamicut has good potential for throwing lots of taxpayer money down the drain.