No, not the great Lynyrd Skynyrd song. But the foul odor emanating a hundred or so miles to our east.
I hate to say I told you so, but I’ve been pontificating about this for years. Cape Cod, where I have family, could be facing an ecological disaster. How could that be?
The situation is actually quite simple: only a couple of municipal sewer systems; rapid development and sandy soil that allows run-off to flow — well, just about everywhere. From yesterday’s NYT:
More than 60 ponds and estuaries on the cape and a few elsewhere in the region have been choked by algae and seaweed. The culprit is nitrogen, much of it leaching out of septic system wastewater that runs through sandy soil into the estuaries.
A former stepbrother-in-law of mine who owned several Laundromats told me only two municipalities on the crowded Cape currently have municipal sewer systems: Falmouth and Barnstable (a.k.a Hyannis), with a third in the works for Chatham. With all the development that’s taken place over the past 30 years, how could this be?
Forty years ago, when the federal government was financing municipal sewer systems at 85-90%, most towns on The Cape said no thanks. Sewer systems, or so the thinking went, would encourage too much development. And we don’t want that.
But the development has continued anyway. There isn’t much industry on The Cape, so seasonal homes occupied by part-timers looked like a good way to grow the grand list. But the full-time population grew because of an influx of retirees and the migration of full-timers lured by the beauty and low tax rates made possible by the part-timers with no kids in the schools.
When I walk from my father’s house off Route 28 near the Bass River to West Dennis Beach, I can always smell sewage in the outlet from Kelley’s Pond to the estuary that leads to the yacht club. I’ve seen large homes on quarter-acre lots replace their septic systems with units that take up the entire front yard. Septic system installation and service has got to be one of the biggest businesses on The Cape.
In the face of minimal help from the state and the feds (both of which are basically broke), Cape taxpayers are bracing themselves for major wallet shock. Businesses that are hoping to expand — or, in some cases, just to continue to operate — are grappling with the limitations of small outdated septic systems and the likelihood of huge tax increases necessitated by new or expanded sewer systems.
Could the great Cape of my youth could be entering a period of decline?