Marathon Swampscott Select Board Meeting Ends In King's Beach Impasse

November 27, 2023 0 By JohnValbyNation

SWAMPSCOTT, MA — An hourlong discussion, including a failed motion on $2.5 million in spending, at the end of a four-hour meeting failed to result in a consensus among the Swampscott Select Board when it came to directing up to $4.5 million in ARPA funds toward fixing pollution at King’s Beach and Fisherman’s Beach on Wednesday night.

A motion from Select Board member Doug Thompson that would have directed $1.7 million to source elimination feeding into Stacey’s Brook at King’s Beach, and the remaining $800,000 in $2.5 million of targeted ARPA funds to pay for studies on mitigating further source pollution and other larger-scale studies to fix the outflow problem at the beaches failed on a 3-2 vote.

Select Board member MaryEllen Fletcher began the discussion with a presentation urging the town to spend all available ARPA resources on source elimination in order to abide by a consent decree with the state Department of Environmental Protection and become compliant with the Clean Water Act.

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Select Board member Katie Phelan urged a peer review of the work that has been already done, and is proposed, before allocating the entirety of the $2.5 million.

A separate proposal from Thompson to put $1 million of the $2.1 million in remaining town ARPA funds toward source elimination at Fisherman’s Beach also failed to gain traction, with some on the Board saying that — while urgent and critical — the town has other needs for ARPA funding besides the aging sewer pipes, and Fletcher arguing that the $1 million combined with the pledge to pursue additional grants is not enough, fast enough, when a vocal contingent in the town has repeatedly pressed the Board to do everything it can to fix the pipes as soon as possible.

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“This money needs to go toward source elimination,” Fletcher said. “We have a legal obligation to stop the sewer flow through source elimination.”

While Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald supported some action to show “the town means business” when it comes to solving the problem, he reiterated his familiar stance that the periodic allocations alone will not solve the problem that makes King’s Beach swimmable no more than a handful of days each summer.

“We, collectively, are on a mission to fix this problem,” he said. “I am proud of what we’ve done. But $5 million is not enough. We need to raise our voices.”

Fitzgerald has repeatedly said that substantial state and federal resources are needed to fix the problem and that the town has other responsibilities and obligations for its own scarce resources.

But Fletcher argued that using the ARPA funds on the source elimination — essentially sleeving hundred-year-old pipes and fixing any connection leaks — is one way to pour money into the project without adding to the tax burden or taking on the burden of future debt through bonds.

The Select Board opted to adjourn the meeting until Monday night when it will once again take up the question of how to spend its remaining ARPA funds, along with creating the new town Water & Sewer Infrastructure Committee and the opening and closing the warrant for the special town meeting planned for Dec. 11.

That meeting, as was the case on Wednesday, is set to be held virtually only amid a rise in COVID-19 cases in the region.

(Scott Souza is a Patch field editor covering Beverly, Danvers, Marblehead, Peabody, Salem and Swampscott. He can be reached at X/Twitter: @Scott_Souza.)

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