October 21, 2003


Both sides of PI project come to Salisbury


Staff Writer

SALISBURY -- Last night's hearing to discuss the Plum Island sewer project got off to a rocky start.

Shortly before the selectmen's meeting, Town Manager Neil Harrington approached Newburyport resident Jeffrey Robertson to inform him that there was no public hearing scheduled.

Robertson was under the impression that there was a public hearing last night at 7 p.m. in the Hilton Senior Center in Salisbury, to discuss the issue of conducting a lot-by-lot analysis study regarding the proposed Plum Island Water and Sewer Project.

Last week Roberston even released a "public service announcement" to The Daily News and other media outlets detailing the supposed special hearing.

"This is totally false, there is no special hearing," Harrington told Robertson.

"Oh, I thought there was," Robertson said.

"Absolutely not, there's no special anything," said Harrington. "You are on the agenda but there's no hearing. We've been getting flooded by phone calls at town hall about this and you should really check before you pass out press releases like that."

"I'm truly sorry, I thought it was a special hearing," said Robertson.

Special hearing or not, 20 people representing both sides of the issue came out last night to discuss their view of the project with Salisbury officials.

The selectmen have already publicly come out against the project -- which would allow residents of Plum Island to tie into Newburyport's wastewater treatment plant.

People in Salisbury fear the project would place more pressure on what they believe to be an already strained Newburyport wastewater treatment plant, causing further pollution to the Merrimack River, which the two communities share. Salisbury was forced to close its clam flats in the Merrimack River due to pollution back in 1986, and they remain closed today.

Newburyport Sewer Commissioner George Succi, who admitted that his opinion against the project is in the minority on the commission, said the wastewater treatment plant is approaching its capacity.

Newburyport Sewer Department Head Brendan O'Regan, a vocal proponent of the project, spoke briefly before being asked by Selectman Henry Richenburg if there were plans to make any specific modifications to the wastewater treatment plant in preparation of the Plum Island project going forward.

O'Regan said there are no specific plans, however over the last few years the department has spent millions of dollars on upgrades to different parts of the system.

O'Regan said the plant is currently processing 2.4 million gallons of wastewater each day and the maximum amount the plant could process would be 3.4 million gallons. He added that if the Plum Island project goes through, it would add about 270,000 gallons of wastewater each day to the plant, which still wouldn't bring it to capacity.

"We've had several situations over the last several years with brown foam in the water and dead birds on the docks in Ring's Island," said Selectman Bob Carroll. "I think it's fair to say we didn't get a lot of help from area towns about this."

O'Regan responded, "We let your Board of Health Director come do some sampling, we let DEP do sampling on foam and they concluded that it's not coming from our sewer treatment plant."

O'Regan added that the Newburyport Sewer Department is still eager to resolve the issue of the source of the brown foam and is willing to work closely with the town of Salisbury on this issue.

"You indicated to the board that the DEP came to that conclusion," said Salisbury Health Officer Horace Baxter. "I wish you had relayed that to me and the Salisbury Board of Health. We all know where the brown foam is coming from, it's a natural phenomenon -- the issue is what is in the foam. This is kind of contrary to what DEP is relaying to me. They've said the foam is coming from somewhere very close but not Salisbury."

O'Regan said the source of the foam is not Newburyport.

"You can refer to The Daily News or call Dave Ferris of DEP and ask him if the source of the brown foam is from Newburyport," he said.

"I hope you realize I don't want to stop anyone from getting clean water and sewer but when it affects people in our town ...," said Selectman Chairman Ed Hunt. "We probably have the number one treatment facility in the country, I just think things can be cleaned up better than they have been in (the Newburyport wastewater treatment facility)."

Hunt added, "I think it's only fair we stand up for our community and ask these questions because I know Newburyport hasn't hesitated when we've done a project that's affected them. I do believe Newburyport doesn't have a good facility, it needs improvement; I believe they're putting the cart before the horse."

O'Regan said he agreed with 99 percent of what Hunt said.

"It isn't perfection, but on an average day we do a good job," said O'Regan.


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