$36 million sewer plant loan goes to Town Meeting

Feb 21, 2023

Voters at this spring’s Town Meeting will decide whether the town can borrow $36 million from a state loan program to replace parts of the aging Water Pollution Control Facility. 

The Sewer Commission made the proposal during its meeting on Thursday, Feb. 13. 

Sewer Commission Clerk Sandra Slavin voted yes, but was concerned about the town taking on more debt. 

“How are we going to fund this $36 million?” She asked. “I would like someone to translate it so we know where the money is coming from.” 

Russell Kleekamp, a project manager for the Barnstable-based GHD consulting firm, tried to flush away her fears. Still, it was unclear how the town would ultimately pay back the loan. 

Kleekamp explained that Wareham’s below-average income makes it eligible for 9.9% principal forgiveness when taking out a loan from a state program that funds wastewater projects. 

In this case, that’s $3.6 million the town wouldn’t have to pay back. 

Additional forgiveness on the loan, which would have an interest rate anywhere between 0 and 2%, could come from the recent federal infrastructure bill. 

“I think we can count on something,” Kleekamp said. “We just don’t know how much.” 

“That principal could be as much as $2 million per year, right?” Slavin said. “Just a wild guess.”

It is still not known how much the loan will cost the town and taxpayers. 

Slavin wanted to know how much total debt the town had, and how much debt it was paying off each year. 

Water Pollution Control Director Guy Campinha estimated that the town has a debt of $56 million, $2 million of which it pays off annually. 

“I don’t have the exact number,” he said. “Our debt is declining annually.”

Campinha said that the town can use the money it saves from declining debts to help pay back the loan. 

The repairs the loan would fund ones that Campinha has previously championed. He has called the Water Pollution Control Facility’s clarifier, which clarifies wastewater by removing solid material, “ancient and outdated.” He said that the Facility’s headworks building, which removes grit, sand and nonflushable items from the town’s sewage, “no longer works.”

At last fall’s Town Meeting, voters approved inspections of both sites to determine how to repair them.

The town can apply for the loan no later than June 30. Slavin said that the vote has to happen at a special Town Meeting, separate from the annual Spring Town Meeting scheduled for April 24.