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Selectmen Consider Irrigation Testing Policy & Increased Recycling Fees

May 31, 2019 06:00AM ● By Pamela Johnson

DPW Director Don DiMartino (left) with Town Administrator Denis Fraine

written by Amy Bartelloni, Contributing Writer

At the May 6 Selectmen’s meeting, Bellingham Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Don DiMartino presented plans for a residential irrigation backflow device testing policy and expressed some concerns about the increased cost of recycling to the town. The meeting was the first public hearing for the irrigation policy, and citizens were invited to provide input.

The backflow policy is not meant to increase revenue to the town, but to protect the town’s water supply. According to Director DiMartino, the policy is suggested to help educate people who have irrigation systems. “Without a backflow prevention device on your irrigation system you can cause a severe risk to the drinking water system, and to the water in your own home,” DiMartino explained to the board. Fertilizers or pet waste can easily be sucked in if there’s reverse pressure in the water system, which can happen.

The policy requires residents to have their backflow device tested by the people who service their system, and when they provide documentation to the town they’ll receive a $10 credit on their water bill. This will be about a $300 cost to the DPW, but he hopes it will incentivize people to get the test done.

“If the tests do not get done, we give them a reasonable time,” DiMartino continued, “[then] send DPW crew members who are certified testers out in the field to canvass neighborhoods.” They’ll send a notice out telling residents they’ll be in the neighborhood, and the crew will do as many as they can in that time. Most devices are outside, but sometimes a fence or a dog will limit access.

“There’s no fee or charge [to the homeowner] for this,” DiMartino said, but if they can’t get the test done, the DPW will be in touch with the homeowner and set up an appointment. If the homeowner shows up for the appointment or provides access, there’s no charge, but if they don’t show up or respond, there’s a $75 charge.

As a last resort, there’s a provision in the plan for starting termination proceedings to that residence to protect the town’s water supply. DiMartino said he hopes it never comes to that, and the board agreed, but generally an irrigation system is not a separate feed from the house water supply, so one can’t be shut off without the other.

“If someone makes no effort, it leaves our system at risk,” DiMartino continued. “The last thing we ever want to do is shut anyone’s water off, but we can’t sit stagnant waiting for a situation where the water could be contaminated.”

Town Administrator Denis Fraine spoke about the policy of shutting water off, a situation he’s never seen happen in 30 years. “There’s a process for it, but I can honestly say I don’t think we’ve ever done it,” Fraine said. “We have given notice before but usually the matter is rectified. It’s absolutely a last resort.” He added that there would be plenty of notice if a homeowner were going down that path.

“The idea is that we’re protecting the town if that system is at risk,” Chairman Dan Spencer added.

Recycling Fees Discussed

The discussion shifted to trash and recycling fees, a topic that came up a few months ago for the selectmen. Fraine explained to the board that when they brought in the automated collection service in 2011, it helped control costs and clean up the town, and the cost to dispose of recycling was zero. That cost has now gone up to $54 a ton, which is still less than the $85 a ton general trash cost. “A lot of communities are grappling with the same problem,” he said, citing what’s called dirty recycling, recycling that’s contaminated with things that shouldn’t be in the recycling stream, and the fact that China has closed the door to recyclables.

Currently 244 residents have a second recycling container, but the town put a hold on giving second bins out at no cost until the Board had an opportunity to discuss the issue. Current cost for curbside collection is $95 a quarter, going up to $135 a quarter for those who have two trash bins. Fraine suggested splitting the difference, with an additional $20 quarterly fee for an extra recycling container.

After some questions from concerned audience members over trash fees compared to other towns’ fees, Fraine reminded the Board that the trash is what’s called a self-paying system. “What that means is the fees cover the costs. It’s not subsidized by taxation.” Residents will have the option to turn in their second barrel if they don’t want to pay the fee.

Chairman Daniel Spencer summed up the fee situation: “I think the bottom line is it costs more money for recycling per ton, but still less than general waste, so we still want to encourage the stuff going into recycling, and I think a small fee for recycling per quarter is reasonable.” The hearing on trash fees was continued to their June 10th meeting, to allow the Board time to further look into fee structures, including residences with two trash barrels. They anticipate that the new fee structure would start at the beginning of the second quarter, with increased fees anticipated October 1.
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