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Millis/Medway - Local Town Pages

Millis Septic Bylaw Question Settled for Now

Article removed from town meeting warrant but questions persist

By Jane Lebak

At a Millis Select Board meeting in March, a controversial proposed bylaw that would have forced Millis septic users to hook up to town sewer was removed from the Annual Town Meeting warrant. 

However, the issue remains: The Town of Millis is over theoretical capacity in the Charles River Pollution Control District, a regional wastewater treatment plant based in Medway.

The bylaw would have required homeowners with functional septic systems over 15 years old to hook up to town sewer. Because homes are estimated to use 110 gallons per bedroom per day, but typically use only half to two-thirds of that, the plan was to mandate septic users to hook up to the sewer system. If the town could be assessed for actual — rather than theoretical — usage, this would put Millis back at 90 percent of theoretical capacity.

Some residents were getting sewer hookup quotes that ran over $30,000. 

Stephanie Schneider, Millis homeowner and owner of Facebook group “Millis, MA Septic Users,” says, “Financially it would be a tremendous burden for us. My heart went out, especially to the older residents who are saying this bylaw affects whether they can keep their house…I still don’t fully understand what [the proponents were] after. None of the proposed solutions solved the problem we were told we were facing. I understand our reserve capacity will be reduced, but if that number is still 90%, it doesn’t seem like a long-term solution.”

Karen Paur Perez, a former Millis resident and professional engineer currently living in New Mexico, explains why the costs can be exorbitant. 

“Most of those houses, they’ll have really long lines because of the setback. The service line may be in the middle of the street, so you’ll have to cut a hole in the pavement and dig to the line. The line may have to slope. Usually you have to move the sewer line to the front of the house, and how it’s plumbed into the house can be problematic. Once you touch that, you have to verify all the plumbing. Then the septic tank needs to be crushed or pulled out of the ground.”

In addition to the massive hookup cost, mandatory hookups might cause other issues. Paur Perez says, “Most of your pipes are 8 inches. Adding 300 people on your smallest lines might not be the wisest thing to do.”

Sewer pipes that are too narrow for the wastewater flow can back up into the houses.

The plan to force sewer hookups has been in the making for longer than the current configuration of the Select Board, according to Select Board member Craig Schultze. “This article has been floating around for four years.”

The current Select Board is exploring other remedies. 

Schultze says, “Waiting is the easiest option. As the larger construction developments are finished, their reserve capacity becomes actual usage. Other potential solutions might include package treatment plants.”

Package treatment plants are a type of on-site septic for developments with the space to create large leeching fields.

Paur Perez says, “The main problem is the 110 gallons per bedroom estimate for sewage discharge. That root number is balling everybody up. It’s so grossly exaggerated that it’s beyond the realm of reason.” She says Millis’ water contract only allows the town to pump 65 gallons per capita per day, yet wastewater is being assessed at 110 gallons per capita per day. “It’s physically impossible for someone to produce more wastewater than they’re taking into their home.”

According to Selectperson Schultze, “That’s based on Title V regulations, and it’s an old number.”

Since the contract went into effect, low-flow toilets, as well as energy-saver washing machines and dishwashers, have become standard. 

Resident Schneider says, “They say the 110 gallons is in our contract and can’t be changed. But contracts should be negotiable.” 

Paur Perez says, “It’s hard to meter wastewater appropriately for a number of reasons. Usually to calculate a wastewater rate, we average usage for December, January, February, then base wastewater production all year round on those three months times 90 percent.”

In February, Millis residents filed two citizen’s petitions in order to enact a three-member elected water and sewer commission to oversee the water and sewer responsibilities currently held by the Select Board. If this passes a two-thirds vote at the May Town Meeting, the matter will be on the ballot for final decision in May 2023.

For the foreseeable future, septic users can remain off sewer.

Schultze says, “There are other solutions we need to look at now. I’m confident we’ll get a solution together that works for everybody.”