AGAWAM,Mass., – A sewer system development that originally began in the late 1970s toextend sewer systems to Feeding Hills residences is finally making its way backto the City Council agenda once again. In Feeding Hills, several “‘high’need” areas are still without access to sewer systems that could save themthousands in septic repair costs, property damage, and increase their homeresale values. Feeding Hills is a section of the city of Agawam and is home toa quarter of its nearly 29,000 residents. It has its own separate zip code andis comprised largely of farmland and some rural and suburban residences. Some residents of those areasdesignated as “high” need areas have been approaching the City Council foryears citing issues with water build-up in their basements, septic systemsbacking up, and septic system failures – even after repairing or replacing them.In a 2004 Southwest Area Wastewater Disposal Evaluation conducted by Tighe andBond, the company concluded that “poor soil conditions, seasonal highgroundwater levels, and small lot sizes contribute to the septic systemfailures reported in each of these sub-areas.
” These sub-areas include BradfordDrive, White Fox Road, Tobacco Farm Road, North West Street, and Joanne Circle,with Bradford Drive being in “the most significant need for wastewater disposalimprovements. According to the 2004 Southwest Area WastewaterDisposal Evaluation, an engineering company stationed out of WestfieldMassachusetts, over 750 homes were included in the “high” need area. At thetime, the project was estimated to cost between $29-30 million, depending on afew different plan options. Those figures today would run around $37-38million. In a petition championed by FeedingHills resident William Clark and City Counsellor Richard M.
Theroux, a hearingto once again discuss the sewer system has been proposed and accepted by theAgawam City Council. The sewer system proposal was tabledin 2012 and again in 2013, this time indefinitely, after both years beingincluded in the town’s Capital Improvement Plan my Mayor Cohen. The reasonbehind the indefinite tabling of the sewer system, as explained by severalCouncilors, was that there the expectations put on the City Council were”unrealistic,” and that the Capital Improvement Plan was “a wish list.”According to then-Councilor Dennis J. Perry, “We really have to look at this seriously,and…prioritize reality.”Clark owns a Yoga Studio in Agawam and is in frequentattendance at the City Council meetings, addressing town issues such as taxincreases and infrastructure issues with sidewalks and roads. With the promises of Mr. Theroux to pursue thecontinuation of the sewer system and documentation and newspaper clippings fromthe 1980s in hand, Clark took to the podium during the citizen speak portion ofthe November 8 meeting.
After citing the dated papers and some interactions hehad with residents, he addressed the council directly: “You started a project,and then you stopped it. Why’d you stop it?” Clark continued his heatedcommentary, calling on the Council to take action on the record. “We don’t apublic hearing at a workshop, we don’t want a public hearing outside this hall.
We want it on this hot mic, with the cameras rolling.” When the issue was broached again during the November20th meeting, Counsellor Gina M. Letellier expressed herapprehension about the hearing. “The petition asks for a discussion about thesewers,” said Letellier, “I don’t know how we can have a public hearing withouthaving a specific item in front of us.” She argued that without specifics, shewasn’t sure how anything could end up on the agenda. Counsellor Richard M. Theroux responded, saying “Thispetition was set up and certified by the Town Clerk…under the section of ourcharter, it can’t be changed.
And it was requesting a public hearing so, withall due respect, that’s what we have to do.” When it comes to specifics,Theroux explained, “It behooves us to get the reports…the potential costs, whatstreets are going to be affected, what problems they have incurred in thoseparticular areas, all that information.”The Council approved the item to be tabled until theDecember 18, 2017 City Council Meeting. Clarkhas also taken to Facebook, specifically the Agawam Political Forum, to postabout the petition, the upcoming hearing, and attempting to mobilize others tohis cause. On the forum, he has added over a dozen posts relating the sewersystem, including EPA reports, City Council meeting transcripts and videosdating back as far as 2006, and even a flyer he created for the upcominghearing, set to take place on December 18, 2017. Sheila Sacco, Agawam, voiced herfrustration commenting on a William Clark post that outlined some details of a2003 City Council meeting that discussed Phase 2 of the sewage plan.
“We paytaxes just like everyone else who have benefitted from other monies spent onparks, tracks, etc…which are far less necessary than helping taxpayers withseptic issues.” Andy Halley, of Feeding Hills, expressed hisconcerns on continuing to put the sewer system as well. “The longer it waits,the more expensive it becomes just in dollars adjusted for inflation alone.” On the Agawam Political Forum, theconsensus is that those who want sewers should be able to get them, the crux ofthe argument is whether or not they should have to pay for it out of theirpockets to connect. Many feel that it should be covered by the taxes residentsalready pay, while some, like William Clark, think that the town should use aportion of the free cash in the town’s budget to help pay for it.
The Southwest Area Sewer Project, asit has come to be known over the years, so-called for the area of Feeding Hillsit would cover, has had a rocky foundation since the late 1970s when it wasfirst started and quickly brought to a halt. In a news articlefrom The Republican dated October 25,2001, the sewer expansion seemed to back on track to the point where Tighe andBond Inc., an infrastructure engineering company, conducted a survey to “helpdetermine the needs of the community and how it will go about connecting around1,600 homes to the city’s sewer system.” In 2008, the sewer plan was back inthe news. In a February 19 articlefrom that year, the expansion was voted down by the City Council, to theappeasement of most of the nearly 200 residents present.
The plan stumbled as aresult of proposed method of funding. The next year, on April 29, 2009, The Republican wrote another articledetailing that plans for the sewer extension were again advancing. The proposalset in motion the work that would be known as Phase One of a planned five-phaseplan, with each phase extending the system further into the Southwest FeedingHills region. The construction for Phase One was completed in 2011. In 2012, as noted by this article found in the MassLive archives, the town was geared up to begin Phase 2 of theextension, but as of 2017 construction has yet to begin.
For now, it is unclear what theoutcome will be. The issue isn’t scheduled to be discussed until the December18 City Council Meeting later this month.