MA budget helps Buzzards Bay area residents upgrade septic systems

NEW BEDFORD – Homeowners in Buzzards Bay are finding it more affordable to upgrade their septic systems by order or by choice with financial assistance.

New language in the state budget, signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker on July 28, gives residents around Buzzards Bay access to low-interest loans through their local health departments to repair their current sewage treatment plants or upgrade them to nitrogen-reducing sewage treatment plants.

As well as helping to relieve homeowners, the Buzzards Bay Coalition says it’s an environmental win for the bay, where seagrass has died in many areas and fish and shellfish have slowly disappeared.

Korrin Petersen, vice president of the Buzzards Bay Coalition’s Clean Water Advocacy, said the only way to protect coastal waters is through improved wastewater treatment. This opportunity leverages an existing program to assist homeowners who want or need to install nitrogen-reducing septic systems.

“New systems that reduce nitrogen will remove a significant amount of that nitrogen, thereby reducing pollution in our coastal waters,” she said. “For people who want to reduce the amount of nitrogen they are responsible for, this new law change allows them to get a low-interest loan to voluntarily modernize their system.”

The coalition cites individual septic systems as the biggest source of nitrogen polluting coastal waters around Buzzards Bay and says the biggest obstacle to tackling pollution is the cost of sewage infrastructure.

Rep. Paul Schmid, D-Westport, worked closely with the coalition and sponsored the language, which allows homeowners to receive assistance from their local health departments to repair, replace, or upgrade septic systems that are not designed to reduce nitrogen are designed.

“It has been great to work with the Buzzards Bay Coalition on such a crucial water quality issue,” he said in a press release. “Your knowledge of the subject was crucial. I am delighted that this law has been passed and put into effect.”

Passing the language was the coalition’s highest legislative priority this year.

Nitrogen-reducing systems cost more than traditional septic systems because they do more to reduce nitrogen pollution, Petersen said, estimating they may be $10,000 to $12,000 more expensive because of the technology, but they hope more people with the loans will make the change be made as an incentive.

Some communities around the Bay, including Westport, Marion, Wareham and Tisbury, must be converted to a nitrogen-reducing sewage system by their health officials under certain conditions, including adding a new bedroom to their home, in order to be able to apply for a loan, she said.

The low-interest loans are in the form of an improvement agreement between the municipality and the homeowners. The city agrees to provide financial assistance to the homeowner to repair, replace, and/or upgrade their on-site system.

Like a loan, the city sets up an account that is repaid over time. The loan will appear as an additional item on the homeowner’s property tax bill. These loans can be extended over a maximum of 20 years. Applications are available through your local health department.

Previously, the community loan program only provided low-interest loans to homeowners who needed to upgrade a failed sewage system.

Now, homeowners who need to, or choose to, upgrade their existing sewage systems to nitrogen-reducing systems can take advantage of the same loan program.

Kathryn Gallerani, a Standard-Times contributor, can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @kgallreporter. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Standard-Times today.

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