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Preservation Group: More Financial Aid Needed for Sewer Connections, Septic Upgrades

The blue-green algae is called cyanobacteria. It can release toxins that affect the liver and nervous system.
Greg Allen
Blue-green algae, known as cyanobacteria, can produce dangerous toxins and have been growing in ponds across the Cape. It's fueled in large part by nutrients that seep out of septic systems.

The Association to Preserve Cape Cod is calling on Barnstable County to do more to help homeowners with the costs of connecting to municipal sewers or upgrading existing septic systems.

Traditional septic systems are responsible for polluting local ponds and streams with harmful nutrients, which has prompted towns across the region, including Chatham, Falmouth, Harwich, and Mashpee, to work toward building new sewer systems that reduce pollution.

But the preservation group’s executive director, Andrew Gottlieb, says a sewer connection can cost a homeowner anywhere from $2,000 to $6,000.

“The factors that affect what the cost is [include] how far back off the street your house is, [meaning], how long is your driveway? And then, what stands between the street and your house, [meaning], if you've got big ornamental trees or you put down decking,” Gottlieb said. “There are a lot of complicating factors.”

Homeowners without sewers in their neighborhoods can instead install upgraded septic systems that filter out nutrients, but that can cost upwards of $13,000.

“As the number of homes that have to connect starts to go up, you know, it's going to become more and more of an issue for more and more folks,” Gottlieb added. “How are they going to come up with that money?”

The Association to Preserve Cape Cod says the county needs to make those connections more affordable by lowering its loan program’s interest rate from 5 percent to zero percent.

“What we are suggesting is that the county change its practice to eliminate the interest rate … [to] provide another financing tool to homeowners who are increasingly going to be looking for assistance in connecting their homes from septics to sewers as municipal projects get underway,” he said.

With a lower interest rate, the program, known as the Community Septic Management Program, would better allow homeowners to take advantage of a low-cost financing option as towns are increasingly mandating sewer connections.

“As more and more towns are finally moving forward with their [sewer] projects, there's going to be more and more homeowners who would really benefit from qualifying for this program. And anything that we can do to reduce that cost would be really beneficial to the towns and therefore the residents.”

APCC sent a letter explaining the proposed changes to the program’s interest rate to the Barnstable County Commissioners.

Commission Chairman Rob Bergstrom said he was open to considering the proposal, although he said eliminating the interest rate completely might not be feasible.

“It’s probably going to be unrealistic to go zero percent should we follow up on this … but we may be able to bring it down to 1 to 1.75 percent,” Bergstrom said. “We want to make sure we have all the administrative costs factored in.”

Bergstrom said he expects the commissioners to take up the issue within the next few weeks.

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.