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I recently engaged in conversation with two local neighbors, a long-standing local business owner and a former elected official who offered their opinions on my support for a ‘return’ to investments in transforming our city’s core into a walkable, bike-able, densely populated urban center.
Scotts on the Rocks Politica Podcast
XXXI March 26, 2021
Gardner ended up with an environmentally fragile, vulnerable and invaluable location for its Dump, and, ultimately, for its Sewer Dump, sometime around 1919.
Some people feel free to judge prior generations by applying 21st century moral relativism to their 20th century (pick your century, any century) actions. But, if we are trying to figure out a solution to the Sludge Dump issue, we have to do more than assuage our virtue-signaling egos by judging prior generations.
It is an objective fact (a/k/a “reality” in prior times) that prior generations did not realize the full extent to which they were harming the environment (if at all – depending how far back you go). They also did not always have the luxury to concern themselves with the natural/environmental consequences of their decisions when they were simply trying to survive in some pretty harsh living conditions.
But, how are we still looking to expand the Sludge Dump at that same location well into the 21st century?
Seven years ago, in April 2014, the City Council was told that the Wastewater Treatment Plant (“WWTP”) upgrades (which everyone agreed was an urgent, imperative, and necessary project) required a “Facility Plan,” by law. Based on all that, the City Council appropriated $363,600 for the Facility Plan. That was independent of, and had nothing to do with, the purported need for a Sludge Dump expansion.
In May 2014 the City Council appropriated $368,500 for the design of the WWTP upgrade project – the actual construction of which was told to the City Council would be about $5 million. That was independent of, and had nothing to do with, the purported need for a Sludge Dump expansion.
In June 2014 the City Council appropriated $214,780 to hire a project manager for the upgrades to the WWTP. That was independent of, and had nothing to do with, the purported need for a Sludge Dump expansion.
But, during these same times, the prior Executive Administration had another dream – to expand the Sludge Dump by almost double. Why? Because the DEP in 1984 had given the City what basically amounts to an open-ended permit at that location.
This has been referred to by some in the Executive Branch of city government as the “golden” ticket, or “gold mine” – because not only can the City expand the Sludge Dump for our own Sewer Waste, but we can charge other communities to truck their Sewer Waste to our huge Sludge Dump off of West Street at the Otter River watershed (by the way, the humans in Templeton drink this water downstream).
As I have said before, the Executive Administration tied the necessary Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrades into the expansion of the Sludge Dump as a “if you approve the one, then you have to approve the other” proposition – even though we know now that the City Council had the option of voting “yes” on the necessary WWTP upgrades, but “no” on the expansion of the Sludge Dump.
Because expanding the Sludge Dump was very unpopular, and controversial, someone (I don’t know who, yet) came up with the idea that the City Council would “endorse” the idea to “pursue” the notion of whether it would be feasible in the future to construct an expansion of the Sludge Dump.
When an idea is controversial and unpopular in government life, the one making the controversial and unpopular decision does not want to take all the blame when shit hits the fan (pardon the pun). So, the politician is always trying to find a fall guy. But, no one wants the hot potato. So, the best the Executive could get from the City Council was an “endorsement” of the pursuit of an idea. This is the weakest and most non-committal of decisions coming out of the City Council (other than placing a communication “on file”).
The City Council’s said endorsement can be interpreted as follows: “we support the Executive Dept’s notions about pursuing an affordable and environmentally-friendly (or, at least, neutral) way to idealize its dream of expanding the present Sludge Dump location, but we hold the Citizenry’s checkbook for all costs, so come on back to us when you want money – and, depending on how things are progressing, maybe we’ll appropriate more money on a step by step basis.”
Since 2016, when the City Council “endorsed” that idea to pursue a dream, it has appropriated $440,000 – but only for permitting and designs. Nothing, $0 (zero dollars), has been appropriated by the City Council toward the actual construction of the Sludge Dump expansion.
What has the City Council been provided over these past 4 years for this $440,000? Nothing. No plans, no schematics, no designs.
After all this time of nothing, is the City Council still expected to be “endorsing” that old idea from 2012 and 2014 and 2016?
From the start, we all have been trying to figure out which solution makes the most sense, while being the least expensive to the Citizens/ratepayers. Saving the Citizens money is always the City Council’s main concern, and is always at the top of the list of concerns.
But, it can’t always be-all and end-all – especially with something as serious as expanding a Sewage Sludge Dump on a vital watershed and a city forest, with a rare glacial esker with a “red X” on it.
In 2016, expanding the Sludge Dump was pitched to the City Council by the Executive Administration as essentially the only viable, feasible and affordable choice the City had relative to this question.
The other affordable option (trucking the Sewer Sludge out of the city), and not expanding the Sludge Dump, was given only short shrift. It was disregarded because the bottom line was always about the cost to the ratepayers. At the same time, that option was not all that far off cost-wise – and it was the only feasible/affordable option that was also environmentally-friendly.
That was over 4 years ago. What about now?
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