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Letters to The Beacon

Dear Editor,

In 2009, the Town proposed building sewers for the Spencer-Tuttle-Flint neighborhood (STF), in spite of a 2008 report by the Water Resource Advisory Committee (WRAC) advising against sewers due to cost. Nevertheless, the Town formed the Sewer Action Committee, similar to the present West Acton Sewer Action Advisory Committee. Then, as now, all committee members favored sewers. They said the water management plan (CWRMP) calls for sewers, and that our neighborhood was plagued by pollution, high fail rates and increasing numbers of septic mounds. They also argued that sewers would cost less.

Many citizens of STF did not believe the sewer committee and formed a citizen’s group to obtain accurate information. Both groups gave presentations before the vote at the 2009 Town Meeting, and the proposal was voted down. Shortly after the vote, the Town formed the Wastewater Advisory Neighborhood Taskforce (WANT), which consisted of people both for and against sewers. The purpose of this committee was to determine the best solution for Spencer-Tuttle-Flint. The committee found that there was no pollution problem, and that STF did not have a high failure rate. In addition, the CWRMP authored by Woodard & Curran, a sewer company, was inaccurate. Consequently, the committee found that the only motivation for sewering STF would be cost. However, the committee found that sewers were far more expensive than septic systems. This was primarily due to the fact that in 2010, Acton’s sewer fee was the highest in the state. At the end of a year and a half of deliberations, the WANT committee unanimously voted against sewers.

When selecting a sewer committee, the Town has several conflicting interests. We have a very expensive sewer. Some commercial interests would be more profitable with sewers. Some real estate developments would be enhanced with sewers available. Some people believe expanding the sewer district will make the sewer more cost effective. In the midst of these competing interests, West Acton residents are unfairly used as a source of capital. The sewer committees, both for STF and West Acton, were formed with pro-sewer members, who have difficulty in making accurate assessments. For more information, please see the work done by West Acton residents at

Michael Geis

Previous member of WANT Committee

Acton Resident


Dear Editor,

As a resident of the proposed West Acton sewer district, I will be directly and detrimentally affected by this project. The West Acton Sewer Advisory Committee offers no persuasive reason why this astronomically expensive project must go forward now and in this neighborhood. Contrary to popular belief, there is no consensus that municipal sewers are inherently less polluting than septic systems. In fact, the EPA asserts that “decentralized wastewater treatment, if properly executed, can protect public health, preserve valuable water resources, and maintain economic vitality in a community. They are a cost-effective and long-term option for treating wastewater.” In addition, traditional municipal sewage systems contribute to groundwater depletion and to global warming through their high electricity consumption.

In response to research conducted by the West Acton Friends, the committee no longer incorrectly asserts that the neighborhood has a high septic failure rate or soil conditions less suitable for septic than the rest of the town. But it continues to use bad arithmetic and worst-case scenario projections of both septic tank failure and replacement costs to justify the onerous burdens the project would impose on homeowners. (Please see for details.)

Homeowners in the district would be forced to pay exorbitant betterment costs of $34,000 to $39,000 before interest whether they choose to hook up to the sewer or not. And hooking up will cost thousands more per household. The town provides no evidence that this will sufficiently increase our property values or that buyers would be willing to pay thousands more for houses on the sewer line versus comparable nearby homes that aren’t on the sewer line.

Please vote against the West Acton Sewer project at the Town Meeting on December 10. The town won’t gain enough benefit to justify the harm the project will do to hundreds of households in our community.


Nancy Waters

West Acton Resident


Dear Editor,

My family moved to Arlington Street, West Acton, in 2017. I live in the sewer district. After doing some research, I found out that this project is very expensive and unnecessary.

First, sewers are more expensive, even when a septic system is failing and needs replacing. Betterment fee estimates range from $34,000 to $39,934 for single-family homes. But the actual betterment fee could be higher than these estimates, as it depends on final sewer construction cost. For example, the South Acton sewer construction cost was estimated at $18.5 million, while the final cost was $25.1 million. Even if the betterment fee does not increase, paying it off at 3% over thirty years will cost each family almost $60,000. By contrast, most homeowners will not need to replace their septic system in the next 30 years and spend just $170 per year to maintain their systems. For example, our septic system will have a first pumping this December (after 2.5 years since we moved in the house) and the service fee is $325.

Second, West Acton is not a needs area. The Comprehensive Water Resource Management Plan (CWRMP) conducted by sewer company Woodard & Curran is based on the wrong information. The authors of CWRMP used a national soil survey by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to predict per-parcel soil conditions, which is not a valid use of the soil survey. According to NRCS, "The soil survey is not intended for, nor should it be applied to, the site specific level. It should not be applied where on-site investigation is warranted such as siting a septic system. To do so can result in misleading information and misinterpretation. Applying NRCS soil units to individual lots is a misuse of the soil survey.” In addition, the CWRMP does not consider the advances in septic system technology that have occurred in the past 15 years.

Third, there is no environmental problem in West Acton. There is no indication of septic contamination in the environment. Average fecal coliform is below Acton’s average. Nitrate levels are low. However, the Assabet River, which Acton's treatment facility abuts, is known to be adversely affected by wastewater treatment facilities along its banks.

Based on the above facts, a $15 million sewer project in West Acton is too expensive and not necessary. Please vote No to the West Acton Sewer Extension Proposal on Dec. 10, 2019.

Yan Wang

West Acton Resident


Dear Editor,

I represent the West Acton Baptist Church which is located within the proposed West Acton Sewer district. This project will cause a significant financial burden to the church. Many groups use our building: several AA groups, a Brazilian congregation, the Acton Debate team to name some. It would be necessary to ask these small groups to increase their donations to us, which would be a hardship.

The church would be forced to divert important, limited funds allocated to mission works. We sponsor four Community Suppers during the year, support the Food Pantry and folks in need locally and world wide. To keep our doors open, we would need to curtail these good works.

We are also concerned as to what will happen to our Village neighbors who live on limited income. The monetary impact is significant. Renters will probably see an increase in their monthly rents because the cost to the property owners will be passed on to the tenants. West Acton is a vibrant, wonderful place as it is! Let's not cause financial burdens on the village occupants, causing some to move away.

Please, VOTE NO on Question 3!

Ruth Thatcher

West Acton Baptist Church


Dear Editor,

In regard to the upcoming Special Town Meeting concerning the installation of a sewer system in West Acton, my observation is that, in this particular instance, the planning process leading to the warrant article advocating for this system for West Acton is flawed. It appears to be based upon a “build first and see what happens later” scenario. Potential developmental impacts are based on an outdated West Acton planning study as one, among other justifications, for this system. As a practicing architect involved with projects both simple and complex for more than 40 years, I find this methodology distressing. Instead, I would have expected the process to involve the following:

  • An extensive public outreach effort resulting in a consensus regarding an up-to-date shared vision for future development (if any) in West Acton;

  • an examination of the current Acton Zoning Code to see whether such a vision was possible under that code;

  • proposed warrant articles modifying the Zoning Code as necessary;

  • adoption of any necessary code changes at Town Meeting;

  • and, lastly, a determination whether or not a sewer system is even needed to accomplish the vision under the applied Zoning Code.

Sewer systems and their potential impact on development are inseparable. Until a more rigorous planning process occurs, I remain, as a resident of South Acton, highly skeptical of the need for a sewer system in West Acton. Thank you for your attention. David Honn Acton Resident


To the Editor,

I believe it is important for all Acton residents to attend Town Meeting on December 10 and vote NO on the proposed sewer project in West Acton.  Even if you don't live in West Acton, please support your neighbors in their efforts to reject this unfair proposal by voting NO.

I live on Tuttle Drive, the neighborhood in which the sewer proposal was (thankfully) voted down in Town Meeting in 2009.  Most of us in this neighborhood felt it was very unfair for the Town to impose such extra expense on us. We did not want to be used as a source of capital for the existing South Acton treatment plant. We did not want to subsidize the cost of bringing sewers closer to a handful of commercial property owners that wanted it in West Acton Village. But our votes alone could not have defeated the proposal.

We were very grateful to all the residents from other areas of town who went to Town Meeting to vote No on the sewer proposal even though it would not impact them directly.  It was because of their support and sense of fairness that the proposal was defeated. I encourage all residents from every neighborhood to support West Acton residents in resisting the sewer proposal this time too.  West Acton residents shouldn’t have to suffer such enormous and unnecessary expense.

In 2009, as it is doing now, the Sewer Committee intentionally distributed misinformation about the cost of sewers, and the need for them. Some residents of our neighborhood believed that the project would cost less than it really would have.  By way of the steady stream of misinformation, the Committee pitted neighbor against neighbor and created conflict in our neighborhood. Sadly, some of these relationships are still broken, 10 years later.

Carolyn Dittes Resident of Spencer-Tuttle-Flint, Acton

West Acton Sewer -- I'm a No Vote & Here is Why

1. Cost... There is no "opt out." You may decide not to hook-up to sewer but, you will still be on the hook for an estimated $40k betterment fee -- whether or not you hook into system. Fun fact about the betterment fee you will be charged -- it is the largest in state history. If you do choose to hook into system that's another $5k out of your pocket.

2. Need... There is no environmental problem in West Acton. There is no "high failure rate" of septic systems in West Acton. Nitrate levels are low and fecal coliform levels are below Acton average. Your drinking water is just fine. Why should we spend $15 million to "fix" something that is not broken?

3. Information... So much of what the town has told us has been based upon faulty and/or outdated information. This, for me, is a large red flag. Make no mistake, there are competing interests. Some real estate development would be enhanced by sewers & some commercial concerns would be more profitable. I stand with my neighbors against this boondoggle of a proposal with a whopping price tag. I will vote no December 10. For more information please go to Friends of West Acton is a group of your neighbors in West Acton who have done a lot of research.

Patricia Gilpatric

Resident of Spencer-Tuttle-Flint, Acton


Acton Sewer Project Unjust and Unaffordable

The Town of Acton will be voting on an unneeded $15 million West Acton sewer project on December 10th. While the whole town is eligible to vote on the project, a small subset of the town will be asked to pay 80% of the cost. Households in West Acton will be assessed between $34,096 and $39,934 each, according to town estimates. This is patently unfair. Spreading the huge cost of this project over a small number of residents is unreasonable. Costs for town infrastructure should be shared by all residents. The cost of a new school would never be assessed to only those households with school age children.

An assessment of $34,000 - $40,000 creates an oppressive financial hardship on the affected households. Having a functioning septic system will not exempt people from this assessment. Even people who have recently installed a septic system, a $25,000 - $30,000 investment, will be required to pay.

Fair and just governance dictates that a town not impose unaffordable cost burdens on a small subset of town residents. Hopefully Acton residents will see reason on December 10th and vote down this ill-advised and unnecessary project.

Dan Jones

West Acton Resident


Dear Editor,

I’m concerned there is a lack of awareness about the financial burden the sewer proposal would impose on West Acton residents. We’ve lived in a two-family home in West Acton for almost 50 years. In 2016, it came time to put in a new septic system. We were able to install an I/A system, a Presby, for just $25,000. This was the first septic replacement needed for my home in 140 years! So I expect the new system to last many, many decades. If this sewer proposal goes forward, our betterment fee would be $53,300! That’s more than twice what we paid for our new I/A septic system three years ago. Having to pay the betterment fee would bring my total cost to $78,300; including interest payments over thirty years, the total would be $108,500! No one should have to bear a burden like that for something they don’t need!

I’m also concerned about the various erroneous pieces of information that have been put forth by the Town. Cost estimates, environmental impact, effect of sewers on development, the evidence of a need for sewering in West Acton, etc, have not been accurate. The betterment fee announcement letter didn’t even inform residents that they would have to pay the fee regardless of whether they hooked up to the sewer. Many people thought they wouldn’t be charged unless they hooked up. The letter also didn’t say anywhere that residents could vote against the proposal! I’m troubled that a proposal which would place burdensome debt on residents has been accompanied by such disregard for accuracy and due process.

Please vote NO on December 10!

Eleanor Mathews

West Acton Resident


Dear Editor, 

The 1994 South Acton Village Master Plan called sewers the "prerequisite to the success of all other efforts” in the desired revitalization of the village. Just like West Acton Villagers today, we were told to expect business expansion, new businesses, and restaurants. However, SAV residents have seen several small businesses close since sewers went in -- roughly one third of the existing businesses at the time. In their place now sit condos and apartments. Replacing commercial entities with housing increases the burden on the town's infrastructure. 

WAV has already seen an incredible revitalization without sewers. Clearly the availability of sewers is not a key factor in economic sustainability. The residents who live in and support the WAV businesses would have money taken out of their pockets to pay the sewer betterment, and for those connecting to sewer, the extremely high usage fees. The existing WAV parking cannot support a large increase in patronage outside of those within walking distance, so any new restaurant seating would need to be filled by the very residents who would be financially burdened by this project.

The Wastewater Advisory Neighborhood Taskforce (WANT), created in 2009 following the failure of the Spencer/Flint/Tuttle sewer vote, concluded after 1.5 years of study that sewers were too expensive to build and maintain. Alternative wastewater treatments exist. Advanced systems are becoming more affordable as the market becomes more competitive, and more environmentally sound due to new technology. Construction costs have sky-rocketed recently and towns can no longer afford to ignore decentralized wastewater treatment as a long-term solution.

Furthermore, Acton's MassWorks Grant Application shows that sewering West Acton would not leave sufficient capacity for the Powdermill 40B project. This would jeopardize the town's ability to reach the state's mandated 10% affordable housing goal. 

I urge Acton to vote "NO" on the WA sewer expansion so the town can apply the remaining capacity to the Powdermill project, allow West Acton taxpayers to stay in their homes, keep their businesses, and continue to have the means to financially support West Acton Village.

Alissa Nicol

Acton Resident


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