Despite what is portrayed as a standing invitation to increase its water allotment from the Town of Wareham, the Rochester Water Commission voted on January 13 to increase the allocation for developer Ken Steen’s residential/commercial project at the junction of Routes 28 and 58 and County Road to 46,000 gallons per day.
The Rochester Board of Selectmen and the Water Commission held a joint meeting to respond to Steen’s request for 50,000 gallons; however, the approved volume fell short by 4,000 gallons.
Fred Underhill, the chairman of the Rochester Water Commission, was able to preside over the meeting despite informing its participants that he had tested positive for COVID-19 over the holidays.
Phil Cordeiro of Allen & Major, the engineering firm representing Steen, presented the developer’s case. Referencing an August 2019 request for 44,880 gallons of water per day, Cordeiro said they are now in a much better position to assess their needs and, as of September 2020, had determined a need for 49,846 gallons per day.
A December 15, 2020 letter requested the increase that Steen says is needed to service the 208 residential units and clubhouse development plus retail. After several public hearings before the Planning Board and Conservation Commission, the project is set to seek financing.
“We need to be able to assure them we have water,” said Cordeiro. “Lenders, the first questions they always ask, ‘Do you have sewer? Do you have water?'”
Under the recrafted inter-municipal agreement (IMA) dated September 21, 2020, Rochester sought and received an additional 5,000 gallons per day from Wareham. “We understand we are asking to use the entire capacity under the IMA, but the IMA was borne out of this development,” said Cordeiro.
Underhill said Rochester had received notification indicating that Wareham is “okay with whatever we decide to do.”
Commission member Mike Conway asked if 50,000 gallons per day will meet the DPA requirements. Cordeiro confirmed that it would, further clarifying that Steen’s request was, in fact, based upon Massachusetts DEP recommendations. “Practical usage runs at about 60 percent of that (planned) usage,” he said. “The actual draw off the system will be substantially less than the 50,000 (gallons per day) we’re asking for this evening.”
Commission member Rick Charon expressed concern that the requested allocation would close the door on any other developer who might come in. “If we had more capacity promised to us by the Town of Wareham, whether it’s used or not, we’d have the capacity to make that decision and not be [subject to undesirable ramifications],” he explained.
Underhill added concern for County Road residents who might wish to tie in, but Selectman Brad Morse said the IMA does not refer to County Road. Town Counsel Blair Bailey confirmed Morse’s assertion, clarifying that the IMA applies to the service area in that vicinity, but not including County Road properties. Zero Waste Solutions recycling facility and the Seasons gas station are also in the area, and discussion about an IMA applying to those properties ensued.
“That has been part of the conversation with the water district,” said Bailey. “We did start out with the goal of incorporating everybody that was serviced … but we thought it best that we have this IMA for this particular area.”
Bailey said he had no concerns allocating the full amount for the residential usage but asked Cordeiro and Steen when they would know actual usage. Steen said residential design flow won’t change but could potentially change for commercial development on the site, noting the vast consumption difference for a restaurant instead of a bank. “What we’ve done is request the maximum amount for the worst-case scenario,” said Steen, citing the financing process. Steen figures he will know how to predict actual usage within 24 months.
Morse said that the Town of Wareham has made it clear they have plenty of water to supply. Charon asked why not increase the IMA to 60,000 gallons per day. Bailey said Wareham’s position was, “When you need it, just come back and ask for it.”
Ownership of the water lines was also discussed.
Rochester resident David Arancio, who is also chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals, said Wareham had expressed a desire to increase its water allocation to Rochester. If Wareham was willing to extend the memorandum of understanding to increase the allocation, the applicant (Steen) could use that document in negotiation with lenders.
Charon approved of the original 45,000-gallon request, but not the last 5,000 requested. Board of Selectmen Chairman Paul Ciaburri expressed concern over losing out on the development in favor of a 40B affordable housing complex where the town could lose its authority.
Steen indicated he would consult with his attorney. “It is problematic not to have the entire allocation to service the entire site,” he said. “I know it’s going to be an issue with any lenders we talk to getting involved with the site.”
Bailey floated the idea of Rochester pledging to allocate according to need but not with a specific number. Steen replied, “If we don’t get the allocation as requested, I’d have Phil look into the question of do we have the capacity to install wells.”
Charon said that an allocation of 46,000 gallons per day “should suffice” to develop a commercial pad site and made a motion. Conway seconded Charon’s motion, and Underhill, Conway, and Charon all voted to increase Steen’s allocation to 46,000.
Selectman Woody Hartley said, “We should put some skin into this game; I would hate to miss out on a project. We should move ahead and talk about it in a selectmen’s meeting.”
In other business, Charon said, “I think Freetown did us a favor” in voting against joining the Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical school district. Even without Freetown students, he said, Old Colony is forced by its limitations to turn down “half the kids who apply.” He said the district might need to look at Middleboro or New Bedford as water sources.
As for the IMA for water with Wareham, Underhill will get back to Bailey on potentially asking Wareham for more water.
The water commission voted to make their FY22 operating budget $1,000, the same as FY21. Whatever isn’t used goes back into the general fund. Charon reported to the commissioners on the Mattapoisett River Valley Water District Committee and Commission’s monthly meeting, the latter of which is considering a massive upgrade to its water treatment facility. Marion is about to start work on the east and west well and pumping station on Mary’s Pond Road. The Water commission also voted to approve the minutes for the December 9 and October 14 meetings.
The next meeting of the Rochester Water Commission is scheduled for February 10, at 7:00 pm.
Rochester Board of Selectmen/Water Commission
By Mick Colageo