Members of the Chelmsford Sewer Fairness Alliance packed the Selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday night expecting a decision on the issue of grinder pumps. Instead, they learned that the decision is it’s too soon to make a decision.
In a 3-2 vote, the Chelmsford Board of Selectmen opted to move the issue to Town Meeting next month after a motion at their last meeting to decide whether to address it immediately or not.
Despite the vote, views of the board were nuanced.
While all members of the board indicated that the hardships faced by the approximately 500 residences in town with grinder pumps not faced by those who use town sewers was unfair, the consensus of the board was a policy that would limit the town’s liability and costs could not yet be made, particularly with Town Meeting facing the issue on Oct. 21.
Selectman George Dixon voted against the motion to delay a decision until after town meeting, hoping to establish a commission to study the issue, citing the residents in the audience who had come to the meeting with expectations of a decision of some kind.
“It’s not fair to people, we told them we’re going to make a decision tonight,” said Dixon. “I’m not against these people, I just don’t think there’s an easy answer.”
The other vote opposing delay on a decision came from Pat Wotjas, who disagreed with Dixon’s idea of a commission, saying it was the Selectmen’s responsibility to make a policy, disagreeing with the policy proposed by the Sewer Fairness Alliance, but believing a policy should be put into place sooner rather than later to provide resolution to the issue.
On the other side, Selectmen Janet Askenburg and Jim Lane voiced their sympathy for the residents who came out to the meeting, but believed a policy as complex as this one would need more time and study over issues such as who residents should call for grinder pump assistance, who would be legally liable, whether the town would outsource maintenance and other points.
“I hate to say no and I don’t want to say no, but for this policy, I just can’t accept this,” said Askenburg. “So I think my answer is not right now.”
While views of the board were not clear, the opinion of grinder pump residents in attendance was a clear sense of frustration at the delay, with Chairman Matt Hanson requesting members of the audience to refrain from disruptive comments at one point in the meeting.
An impromptu Sewer Fairness Alliance adjourned in next room over following the decision, discussing strategies on how to persuade Town Meeting representatives to support their cause.
Following almost 20 years living with grinder pumps and $26,000 in costs he would not have living with sewerage, Jim Schmidt of Mansfield Drive saw the Selectmen’s decision as a measure of political cowardice and an attempt to sway public opinion against their cause.
“All they’re doing is handing it off to everybody they can and they’re avoiding their own responsibility, they should come to a vote right there, then we would have gone on,” said Schmidt, who believes eventually his fellow grinder pump home owners will sue. “I was surprised at the spinelessness of the Board of Selectmen.”
Later in the meeting, Wotjas moved to not recommend to Town Meeting a citizen’s petition regarding the issue, gaining unanimous agreement from the board.
CORRECTION: Pat Wotjas and Matt Hanson voted against the motion, not Wotjas and George Dixon.