By Amaris Castillo
The town is working to comply with new federal stormwater regulations that will bring a biannual fee for resident.
Employees with the town-hired engineering and consulting firm CDM Smith shared a wealth of information from their stormwater utility rate study during a recent meeting of the Board of Selectmen, including details of the five-year MS4 permit that 260 Massachusetts municipalities are required to comply with. MS4 stands for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems, which are designed in part to collect or convey stormwater.
Stormwater is water from rain, snow melt and other events that flows into storm drains, streams, rivers, ponds and wetlands, according to Neal Campbell, a project manager with CDM Smith. Stormwater often contains contaminants like grease and animal feces. Citing the MassDEP, Campbell said all of Dracut's waterways are impaired, as E. coli levels exceed MassDEP limits, and the Merrimack River is also impaired by phosphorus.
The MS4 permit became effective on July 1, 2018, and additional funding is necessary to comply with permit requirements to avoid financial penalties, according to CDM Smith.
Joe Ridge, a financial specialist with the firm, said the town will need to generate $1.5 million to comply with current requirements when fully implemented. Ridge said the town can pay for the requirements primarily through a fee. The firm recommends that the town implement a charge based on the impervious area of each parcel in town.
Impervious surfaces are non-absorbent, such as rooftops, driveways and sidewalks.
Ridge stressed that this is not a tax, but a fee.
"All impacting parcels, including the town, have to pay the fee," Ridge said.
Some of the most expensive changes include additional stormwater sampling and testing, and additional street-sweeping. There will also be a public-education component.
After the meeting, Town Manager Jim Duggan expressed hope that, as public education grows, more residents in town will be vigilant about picking up dog waste while out for a walk so as to help protect the environment.
"Although the new guidelines were imposed on July 1, 2018, we proposed implementing the fee until the last possible moment because I understand the financial implications to all property owners of the town," Duggan wrote in a text message to a reporter. "We have worked very hard over the last 18 months to minimize the necessary financial investment and maximize the efficiencies necessary to make sure we are in compliance so the town will avoid financial fines."
In other news from the selectmen's meeting:
n Duggan announced that Dracut has received five senior-housing proposals. The proposals for the development of up to 60 units on a parcel of land at 144 Greenmont Ave., are being reviewed by Duggan, Housing Authority Executive Director Mary Karabatsos and Meredith Boumil-Flynn, who is listed on the town website as vice chairman of the Capital Planning Committee.
n The town is conducting a re-list and remeasure of each property -- part of a three-year process, according to Duggan. A notice on the town website states that the cyclical inspection is for data-quality purposes to comply with the Department of Revenue's guidelines. Postcards will go out to residents when the assessors will be in different areas. Selectman Tami Dristiliaris noted that people don't have to allow the assessors into their homes if they don't want. "They don't have to, but it's in their best interest," Duggan replied.
n Plans for the Coalition for a Better Acre to develop the former Dracut Centre School/Town Hall Annex at 11 Spring Park Ave., into housing for working veterans is still in progress. "There is a lot of work behind the scenes going on, and they understand it's a high-profile project and it's important for the community and for the veterans and for the vocational school," Duggan told officials. Duggan, after the meeting, said the timeline for when townspeople can expect to see the project officially kicked off depends on the funding round. "There's two things that we're up against: There's a tremendous amount of demand for the funds that are available, and the focus of the administration is to subsidize family housing projects, not just affordable senior-housing projects," Duggan said.
n Selectmen postponed a discussion of the possible renaming of Harmony Hall after Harvey J. Gagnon, a former Dracut Historical Society president who died last month. Gagnon, 87, was considered the driving force behind some of the town's most important historic-preservation projects -- including Harmony Hall's move from Collinsville to its current site adjacent to the historical society's Lakeview Avenue location.
Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org