Although public policy, and specifically local government, has been both my avocation and my career, I have never really given much thought to the concept of urine diverting toilets. That, however, does certainly not mean that it is not a subject worthy of consideration.
Nearly a year ago, I offered some thoughts on the planned sewering of major portions of East Falmouth, called the Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan (CWMP) by the professionals. I suggested that before the CWMP get out of control, citizens and professionals alike pause and really examine both the need and the affordability of the largest public works project in our history.
Here's what I said of this idea...
"An idea with merit is discussed at a Selectmen's meeting and all agree it is a good idea, and that a committee should take a closer look. Soon enough, that "take a closer look" is given a dash of committee input, a sprinkle of knowledge, and a heap of good will and has blossomed into a hearty mandate with nary a second look and the idea is driving itself straight to Town Meeting and the ballot box.
Before this issue drives itself anywhere, there are half a billion reasons why the brakes should be put on..."
In the ten months since I wrote that, the CWMP has seen anything but brakes - this little engine is chugging toward Town Meeting to be sure - and toward our pocketbooks. To the Committee's credit, they have conducted significant public outreach and are making a sincere effort to inform the citizenry - but their effort has been limited to providing information, not gathering it.
Which brings me back to the subject of urine diverting toilets. While this subject may not generate lovely images and intense debate in the barbershops and grocery aisles of Falmouth, it is indeed at the heart of the current sewer discussion - both as an alternative to sewering itself and even more importantly as a symbol of the fast-track/one-track process that has characterized this issue to date.
"I am concerned that Falmouth has not adequately considered alternative technologies in the discussion of new sewers in Falmouth." Those are the words of a man who should know. State Rep. Matt Patrick served as a Selectman and Public Works Commissioner in Falmouth for six years before making the journey to Beacon Hill. Up there, he has been a champ on environmental issues and recently expressed his growing concerns in a letter to the environmental triumvirate in Town Hall: The Selectmen, Board of Health, and Conservation Commission. Matt's point is similar to mine - that not enough has been done to consider other options than a five-hundred-million dollar solution to the problem of nitrogen in our estuaries. "I ask the Town of Falmouth to take a breath; rethink this issue and put more resources into planning and research," said our veteran Rep. Right on. Take a breath, please, because the thought of heading headlong into spending half a billion dollars is enough to make us all hyperventilate.
We don't live in 1800's rural Kansas where tumbleweeds roll through a barren village. We live in one of the scientific hubs of this planet, and have an assemblage of able and eager scientists poised to volunteer their smarts and experience to help solve the vexing problem of the degradation of our natural resources. Why not, as Matt suggests, enlist the help of the great scientific minds in Woods Hole and allow their "blue ribbon panel" to chime in? What is the possible harm in that? That expertise would be a complement to, not a replacement of, the work done to date by our paid and volunteer policymakers.
Matt's final words to the leaders of our community wrap it up perfectly: "This is the largest and most expensive problem that the town will ever have to negotiate. Once the decision is made, we will all be committed for the rest of our lifetimes in Falmouth." Think about the permanency he's speaking of to our most trusted leaders. For the rest of our lifetimes. Shouldn't we make sure we get it right?
This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.