Town Converts Onsite Systems to Modular Sewer and Dramatically Raises Property Values

On West Island in Fairhaven Massachusetts were 400 pre-war cottages on 5000 square foot lots. Each cottage had its own cesspool and well. The soils of dense glacial till were so poor that no further development was permitted and the rest of the island was given to the State.

Eventually, the 400 cottages received electrical power and town water services which increased their use from 2 months to 12 months a year. Ultimately wastewater broke through to the surface and threatened the public health. The town’s treatment plant was too far away to solve the issue. With no apparent solution, property values plummeted.

The town manager, an engineer, was determined to resolve the problem. However, his challenges were geological, technical, regulatory, social and financial. They represented a complexity that would overwhelm most small communities. In short he found a permeable sand layer twenty feet below the surface which solved his disposal problem.

He was able to procure Rural Utility Service grants and loans, however, they were not sufficient. Because a municipality can repair a public hazard on private land and charge the property owner for the betterment he worked with the property owners to develop a solution He organized a strategy wherein public health officials condemned the properties which allowed the town to impose a schedule of payments sufficient to complete the project. Once the project had been completed, responsibility for the system was transferred to the Fairhaven Department of Public Works. When it was completed the town manager reported that “property values increased 50% and in, some cases, quintupled.”

Everything that was done was available under current law.