In 2002, the Town of Acton constructed a sewer in South Acton. Seven years later, in 2009, the Town proposed extending the sewer towards West Acton. After reviewing the proposal, residents found that sewers were more expensive than septic systems, and additionally that there was no environmental need. As a result, the proposal was voted down at Town Meeting on June 23, 2009. After the vote, the Town formed the Wastewater Advisory Neighborhood Taskforce to determine what changes were necessary to make the sewer proposal acceptable to residents. This committee examined the pros and cons of sewers in the Spencer-Tuttle-Flint neighborhood. At the end of their analysis, they voted unanimously that the best solution was no sewer at all.
Now, in 2019, a proposal for sewers comes before Acton residents once more.
Opting for sewers over septic systems turns individual responsibility for a single septic system into a shared responsibility to maintain a $25 million system. In Acton, sewer fees have risen by 70% since 2002, becoming the highest in the state in 2010. Meanwhile, as of 2017, the town had yet to pay off ~$14 million in debt from the sewer's original construction. In addition, the Acton treatment plant is aging. Many of its components have a lifespan of only 20 years. The plant is now in need of ~$10 million in refurbishment and upgrades. Meanwhile, the cost of sewers continues to rise.
Sewers enable high-density building which increases traffic on roadways. Road capacity in Acton is a limited resource that is already under strain. According to the Acton 2020 Master Plan, "...most new residential development now comes at an increasing cost: more traffic, more risk to water supplies, more infrastructure to pay for and maintain, and more costs for services." Moreover, development puts increasing strain on the environment and local wildlife, as limited habitats are destroyed to make way for more building.
Would expanding the sewer decrease usage fees for current users? An analysis of sewer expansions across Massachusetts shows that expansions encompassing fewer than 4000 new users tend to result in a greater increase in sewer fees.
According to the EPA, septic systems can provide excellent wastewater treatment. They support the local economy, as they tend to be serviced and installed by small, local businesses instead of large engineering and construction firms. Septic systems are better for the watershed as they replenish local aquifers and streams. They allow Acton drinking water, pumped from local ground water, to return to the water basin instead of being pumped by sewer to South Acton and discharged at the Assabet River. The Assabet is already compromised with high levels of organic compounds from water treatment facilities along the river.
Moreover, septic systems in West Acton function well and reach their expected life span. According to 21 years of data, septic systems in West Acton fail Title V inspections less frequently than average and do not have above average maintenance or replacement costs. In addition, tests have shown that there are no indications of septic discharge in the environment of West Acton.
To conclude, spending $15 million to extend sewers would burden West Acton homeowners with unneeded debt, usage fees, hookup fees and interest payments. Please take a few minutes to read through this website to learn more about the effects of sewers in West Acton. Join our mailing list to stay informed of latest developments.
A map of the proposed district is available here.