Sewer plant upgrades, shellfish, condos: Marion's Town Meeting agenda

By Andrea Ray and Tanner Harding | May 01, 2017

Marion — Marion voters on May 8 will decide whether to fund a $1.9 million upgrade to the wastewater treatment plant, whether to allow condos on Spring Street, whether the town will stop issuing aquaculture permits, and determine the future of the Town House.

The meeting will convene at 6:45 p.m. at Sippican School. All registered voters in Marion may attend and vote.


Wastewater Treatment Plant

Marion is facing heightened water sewer bills, according to Town Administrator Paul Dawson, as a $1.9 million overhaul of its waste treatment plant is up for approval at Town Meeting.

The expensive overhaul proposition is on the agenda due to a new wastewater discharge permit issued by the Environmental Protection Agency. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit identifies and limits the amount of pollutants, including toxins, released by the plant.

When the permit was originally introduced in late 2014, the Selectmen found that the new permit was so different from the previous one that new and significant upgrades would be necessary to adhere to regulations.

The overall cost of getting the treatment to comply with new state regulations will probably be upwards of $20 million, spread over several years, Dawson explained.

In a 2015 letter to the state, Marion wrote that the total costs of coming into compliance with the new permit would be exorbitant, increasing by 269 percent. In 2015, the average sewer bill rested around $997 per year, and a projection from the town indicates that with the required improvements, sewer rates will increase to $2,683 per year.

However, Dawson says, the $1.9 million is actually focused more on extending the useful life of the treatment plant than it is to fully conform to permit standards. The facility, which opened in 2006, is about halfway through it's useful life, and needs regular maintenance to extend that lifespan. "While the funds would certainly pay for upgrades that would make us permit compliance, they're intended more for regular plant maintenance."

The town is also interested in looking at alternative ways to achieve permit compliance; one item proposes spending $385,000 to analyze alternative methods of gaining permit compliance, which would be less expensive overall.

The current method of compliance is to dump chemicals into the wastewater, in order to lower phosphorus levels in the water to levels considered acceptable in the new permit. According to Dawson, the chemicals have another effect: sludge, which will take more time, money and equipment to remove.

The alternative method that can be used to lower phosphorus levels, Dawson explained, is to discharge water into a salt marsh, where waste can be broken down through natural ecological processes.

The ultimate approval is up to voters, though Dawson warned that voting no could literally cost citizens thousands. "If we're not compliant, the state has the right to charge us penalty fees," he explained. Those fees can reach into the area of $65,000 to $75,000 per day.

Town House

Perhaps no issue has been more hotly debated since last year’s Town Meeting than the Town House. That has led to two separate, but similar, items on this year’s agenda.

The Town House Building Committee had originally suggested a $12 million complete renovation of the current building, but began looking at other options after facing backlash from residents over the price. The committee then presented four other options: an $8.5 million renovation that would remove the back annex on the building and move three departments to the town-owned Atlantis Drive facility, a $9.6 million renovation that got rid of the annex and added an addition for meeting space, an $8.1 million “3A” option that did not add an addition, and lastly the $9.1 million option to construct a new building on the VFW property or a different site.

The committee then favored the 3A option, but ultimately decided to do more work on the new build on a different site option, per residents requests.

The first item was placed on the agenda by citizen petition. It is asking for $35,000 for “a reorganized Town House Committee to be used for developing alternative Town House options and recommendations” on or before next year’s Town Meeting.

The item also includes three criteria the options must have. The first is relocation of town administrative offices to a separate standalone facility constructed on the town-owned VFW property or alternative town-owned site.

The other requirements are preservation of the architectural heritage of the existing Town House building and development of strategic options and recommendations for the current building. It is suggested that the current building could be transferred to the private sector for historical preservation, which would also allow the town to collect taxes on the property.

The petition also asks for the Board of Selectmen to appoint five members for a new Town House committee, including a member from the Planning Board and a member from the Finance Committee. The three remaining members should have backgrounds in business, finance, development, construction or architecture, according to the petition. Additionally, no town employees would be allowed on the committee.

The second item is on the agenda for the Special Town Meeting and was requested by the Town House Building Committee. The building comittee is asking for $34,300 to complete a feasibility study of building a new Town House on the Benjamin D. Cushing Community Center site, formerly the location of the VFW.

At an April 4 Selectmen meeting, the building committee again came before the board and suggested the two groups work together. Members proposed a subcommittee comprised of three current building committee members and four petitioners.

It is likely that one of the articles will be withdrawn on the floor at Town Meeting.

Aquaculture moratorium

Voters will get the chance to make a decision on the future of aquaculture in Marion.An article put forth by citizen petition requests a temporary moratorium on the issuance, transference or renewal of aquaculture licenses.

The petition states that the moratorium should last until the Board of Selectmen and Planning Board review the strategic use of all waterways under the town’s jurisdiction. It also states a harbor bylaw must then be developed by the boards.

The petition was filed after a series of aquaculture license requests were presented before the Selectmen. Supporters of the moratorium think the harbor should have a set "Master Plan" in terms of development.

Currently, to get an aquaculture license, applicants must fill out an application with the town and then present the project to the Selectmen. If the board approves the plan, a public hearing is scheduled. The public hearing gives residents the chance to speak either for or against the plan. Based upon comments from the public, the Harbormaster and the applicant, the board can either approve or deny the application.

Once an application is initially approved by the Selectmen, it must be approved by a series of state and federal agencies. Ultimately, if the application makes it through all the agencies successfully, it ends up back with the Selectmen, who get the final say.

Harbormaster Isaac Perry has said that he prefers to look at applications on a case-by-case basis because a spot that may have worked for aquaculture purposes initially may no longer be a good fit for the town if another farm goes in nearby.

Rezoning for condos

Voters will decide whether to allow condos on Spring Street at Town Meeting.

The article will request re-zoning four lots from a General Business zone to a District Residential E zone. This request was made to potentially allow new condominiums.

In November, Bill Curley of Hamblin Homes, represented by attorney Patrick McArdle, proposed a 28-unit condominium complex to the Planning Board.

The condos would be comprised of mostly two and three bedroom units, all of which would have a master bedroom on the first floor to make it more appealing to the town’s older residents. Curley also cited the new condos on Cottage Street as proof that there is a need for this type of residence in town.

Re-numbering, codification, and text changes

Several agenda items refer to the re-codification and changing the text of Marion's General Laws, as well as its Zoning Bylaws. The items may seem like simple, straightforward grammar edits, but Marion Town Administrator Paul Dawson explains that there's more to them. "If a word is transcribed the wrong way, or not transcribed at all, the interpretation of the law may be different than what the intent was at the time it was passed," he explained. "If we said 90 and 900 is entered instead, that's a big difference."

The codification and correction project will examine all bylaws and identify a starting point where it is agreed that the bylaws are correct in intention and writing. That way, Dawson says, the law can go back to the spirit of what was intended when it was put into place at town meeting.

Dawson says that the codification and text clean-up project will also lead to another useful item - an online record of all of Marion's zoning bylaws. As the bylaws are examined and fixed, General Code, the company which is investigating all the bylaws, will put it online. Interested residents can then go to the web host, type in a word like "setback" and find all the zoning bylaws in Marion related to setbacks.

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