September 26, 2003


Public hearing date set on PI legislation


Staff Writer

PLUM ISLAND -- The Plum Island water and sewer project's special state legislation took two steps forward yesterday: A public hearing on the bill was scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 7, at the Statehouse, and Newburyport's state Rep. Michael Costello and state Sen. Steve Baddour signed onto the legislation.

"In anticipation of the hearing, we felt it was necessary to sign on and indicate our support before the hearing date," Costello said pointing out that he and Baddour were waiting for clear direction from Newburyport officials, the majority who support the legislation. "This is a deal that binds our communities together on an important issue and we're glad we could work together ... we are both happy to sign on."

Newbury's legislators, state Rep. Harriett Stanley and state Sen. Bruce Tarr had already signed onto the legislation.

But, as part of the process in moving the "enabling legislation" forward, the public is invited to comment before the state Joint Committee on Local Affairs and Regional Government. The hearing will be held at 1 p.m. in room B2 at the Statehouse in Boston.

"The purpose of public hearing is to gain citizen comments relative to proposed legislation so representatives and senators have a better idea what is in the legislation and the effects to the communities," said Plum Island Project Coordinator George Gustafson.

The legislation for the Plum Island project, which would extend water and sewer lines to the island, is a requirement of the Administrative Consent Order (ACO) between the communities of Newbury and Newburyport and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The project is intended to remedy non-compliance with state septic system regulations known as Title 5. Newburyport and Newbury entered into an agreement with the state Department of Environmental Protection two years ago to bring water and sewer service to the island. Newburyport's water and sewer services would be extended at an estimated cost of $22.9 million. The project would be financed by betterment charges on the island's approximately 1,200 properties, costing each household about $20,000.

If passed by the Legislature, the enabling legislation or House bill 4070, once known as the "special legislation," would give the city and town authority to mandate that island residents connect to water and sewer service. The legislation would also mandate that islanders pay a betterment fee and conform to building restrictions outlined in the Plum Island Overlay District zoning law that was passed last year. In addition, the act would allow the city to accept as public any roads on the island that need to be improved for the installation of sewer and water infrastructure.

"In terms of the legislation, this just seals the deal with the DEP and communities -- it doesn't outline all the project requirements and it wasn't meant to do that," Stanley said. "It's not the give away that some people have thought it was or the beginning of the project as other people think it is -- just one more event that has to lead up to the project."

Stanley said usually the public hearings last about two to three hours, allowing a public testimony from individuals of about three minutes. Stanley said occasionally the committee will make a decision, then the legislation moves to the House for a vote, followed by the Senate.

Gustafson said he hopes to have the legislation passed at the state level prior to Nov. 6, which is the date that Newburyport begins making its first principal payment on the project. "If it passes, we will not have to pay that," Gustafson said.

On Nov. 1, Newburyport would be expected to pay about $31,000 in principal on a $940,000 bond anticipation note.

Newbury's bond anticipation note would be coming due in December, costing about $45,000 in principal payment.

Both communities would also pay interest on the notes.

Costello said it's important to get the legislation through by November.

"For taxpayers in Newburyport, it is very important that we get this moved through," Costello said.

But, Stanley said she's not sure that the legislation will be passed by the end of October.

"I don't know if anyone can make that prediction," Stanley said. "I can see the legislation being voted on and moved from the house to the senate but I don't know how busy we'll be and anything can happen ... the end of October is possible, but no probable."

Stanley said it will be made known the time sensitivity of the legislation to the committee.

"But, this has taken a long time to get here," Stanley said. "There's no point in rushing that process."

(This article replicated online with permission of the Newburyport Daily News, an Eagle Tribune Newspaper.)
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