Hudson, MA  eyes ban on
new sewer hookups

Foresees future crackdowns on waste-water discharge

By Scott W. Helman, Globe Staff Correspondent, 8/30/2001

Recognizing that impending environmental regulations will probably restrict the town's current waste-water discharge into the Assabet River, Hudson, Massachusetts' officials are considering imposing a moratorium on new sewer connections.

The proposal, submitted this week to the Board of Selectmen from Paul Blazar, Hudson's executive assistant, would prohibit any new sewer connections to the system for future development - including several large residential projects already in the public hearing phase.

Hudson is permitted to discharge up to 3 million gallons of waste water per day, but the town will exceed that limit even with its minimum projected new needs, Blazar's proposal says. What's more, the US Environmental Protection Agency is widely expected to reduce the town's 3 million gallon limit to 2.65 million gallons per day, where the town was previously. Its average discharge is 2.4 million gallons per day.

''As disruptive as a moratorium threatens to be, in the long run it will be less so than the effects of violating the terms of our discharge permit and incurring the penalties and legal programs, which that might entail,'' Blazar's letter to the selectmen reads.

For years, Hudson and its neighbor communities have pumped waste water to treatment plants on the Assabet River, which then channels the effluent to the Atlantic Ocean. But state and federal environmental officials have begun cracking down on this practice, which they say is slowly sending the next generation's drinking-water supply out of the communities.

Hudson, which along with Marlborough, Maynard, Northborough, Shrewsbury, and Westborough composes the Assabet River Consortium, is acting alone in considering the moratorium.

Why now?

''I think the arithmetic became compelling,'' Blazar said, noting the list of proposed housing developments that the town's sewer infrastructure and permit caps simply can't support. The moratorium would exempt projects for which plans have already been approved, sewer connections the Board of Health thinks are necessary for safety reasons, and single-family houses where no extension of the sewer main is required.

The moratorium would be especially bad news for Marlborough-based Fossile Construction, which had been planning on building 142 housing units, adding 45,000 gallons per day to the town's sewer capacity. The company was not aware of the possible moratorium, said office manager Linda Fossile, and has no alternative waste-water plans at the moment.

''We do have a lot of money already tied up in all the projects,'' she said.

Town officials acknowledge that a moratorium would be unpopular with prospective homeowners and developers, but they say Hudson has little choice.

''Do I think the EPA has an open mind on this issue?'' Blazar said. ''I haven't seen that.''

The state Department of Environmental Protection, which enforces EPA regulations, generally supports measures like this that keep communities within their permit limits, said Doug Fine, the department's regional deputy director.

''Failing to do that, there would be, in addition to the impact on the river and groundwater flow, the potential for DEP enforcement action,'' he said.

The Board of Selectmen's chairman, Carl Leeber, said that although cleaner air and water are lofty objectives, communities suffer in achieving them.

''The effect on the bottom of the pile is millions of dollars in expenditures for cities and towns,'' he said.

Echoing the oft-heard complaint from municipal officials in the Assabet communities, Leeber said it is frustrating trying to keep up with the environmental policy of the day.

''Every time we turn around there's something new,'' he said.

Selectman Joseph Durant indicated he would support the moratorium, saying it gives the town a tool to restrict residential development. ''I've been lobbying for this for a long time,'' he said. ''I think it was necessary prior to this.''

If passed, the moratorium would probably shine a brighter spotlight on the kind of alternative waste-water solutions that the EPA and state Department of Environmental Protection are pushing. Rather than encouraging pumping waste water downstream, the environmental agencies will eventually require communities to discharge treated waste water into local aquifers.

The Board of Selectmen is expected to take up the moratorium at its next meeting, Sept. 10.