Town moves to abolish Sewer Commission

  • Royalston Selectboard member Roland Hamel urges voters at the recent special town meeting to approve an article to do away with the town’s Sewer Commission. Greg Vine

  • Royalton Sewer Commissioner Gary Winitzer argues against a recent special town meeting article calling for the abolition of the commission. —Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 8/14/2019 9:45:18 PM
Modified: 8/14/2019 9:45:10 PM

ROYALSTON – Voters at the recent special town meeting approved an article to do away with the town’s Sewer Commission. The article instructed the Selectboard to seek passage of special legislation allowing the town to do away with the board.

Responding to a question from the floor asking for the reasons behind the move, Selectboard Chair Christine Long said, “Over a number of years, going back before my tenure on the Selecboard, there have been conflicts between the Sewer Commission and the DPW, and the Sewer Commission and the Selectboard. The origin of the Sewer Commission itself is kind of murky.”

Long said the infrastructure of the existing sewer system was built by the paper mill that once operated in South Royalston and, after several intervening steps, it wound up in the town’s hands. She said records indicate elections for Sewer Commission took place in 1975 and 1976, but there were “no takers.” In 1996, she said, the Department of Public Works was given responsibility for “operation and maintenance” of the sewer system.

“Last fall,” she continued, “we on the Selectboard developed a draft set of duties for the Sewer Commission and the DPW. Both the DPW and the Sewer Commission were invited to the meeting. No sewer commissioners came. Since then, even though it was determined the DPW was responsible for physical operation and maintenance (of the system), there have been conflicts. It has simply come to a head.”

Sewer Commissioner Gary Winitzer disputed Long’s account, stating, “In 1972, the town’s original treatment plant was completed. In 1973, you had three sewer commissioners elected in the annual election. The Selectboard is not going to be able to do what the Sewer Commission does. We set rates, we have an annual hearing where we set rates and assess penalties, and we have the ability to enforce regulations.”

“It appears that between the DPW and Sewer Commission,” said Selectboard member Roland Hamel, “nothing was being accomplished, as far as the little things. That put us in violation (of environmental laws). There were a lot of little things that the operators kept telling DPW, kept telling the sewer commission, ‘You need to fix these things.’”

Hamel said if things weren’t quickly put in order at the treatment plant, the town could face significant fines from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Of the 182 registered voters on hand for the town meeting, only four voted against the article.

State Rep. Susannah Whipps is shepherding the home rule legislation through the Legislature. She said the bill is being reviewed by House counsel to ensure the wording is correct and will pass muster once it is submitted to the House Clerk. She said, from there, it is likely to move to the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government.

“Rarely do any changes have to be made,” said Whipps, who added she’s hopeful the legislation will be voted on and passed before the end of the year.

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