Westport goes all in on $35M Route 6 build

Committee recommends $35M plan to go before voters in April, and Town Meeting in May

Ted Hayes
Posted 1/30/24

Westport voters could be asked in April, and again at Town Meeting in May, to approve spending up to $35 million to bring water and sewer — and some say, new life and vitality — to …

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Westport goes all in on $35M Route 6 build

Committee recommends $35M plan to go before voters in April, and Town Meeting in May


Westport voters could be asked in April, and again at Town Meeting in May, to approve spending up to $35 million to bring water and sewer — and some say, new life and vitality — to Route 6. Such a move, advocates say, will reap benefits far beyond the crumbling, under-utilized highway that runs from the Fall River to Dartmouth town lines.

Members of Westport’s Infrastructure Oversight Committee voted unanimously last week to recommend to the select board that the massive, three-contract project be put before voters at the April election, and again at Town Meeting in early May.

Though such projects usually go before Town Meeting first, and then to voters in a regular or special election, “we’re putting the cart before the horse this time,” the committee’s Maury May said. “We don’t want to wait — we’re ready to get going on this.”

What is it?

Broken into three contracts estimated to cost approximately $8 million, $15 million and $8 million, respectively, with several million in contingencies added, the project would bring a water and sewer “trunk” line onto Route 6 from the Fall River line, running it as far east as the Dartmouth line.

A series of new or improved pump stations would be built along the way, eventually resulting in much improved water service and sewer where none is currently available.

As the project is built out, residents currently underserved with poor water service, and no sewer, would have the opportunity to tie into the system as it advances in the coming years.

Town leaders believe the project will have a huge impact on business in the north end, bringing in more development and increased tax revenue, while helping underserved residents and eliminating one of the major sources of pollution in South Watuppa Pond and the Westport River.

“This is a really unique and exciting project because it brings economic development forces together with environmental protection,” Korrin Petersen, of the Buzzards Bay Coalition, told the oversight committee last week. “The coalition is supporting the full expansion of sewer down Route 6 and we hope that it moves forward to town meeting this Spring.”

Selling it

The project's scope is massive, requiring multiple sources of federal, state and local funding.

The town has already spent about $600,000 out of a $1 million earmark designing the project, and the first phase is ready to go out to bid whenever the town has the money.

Prior to last week’s meeting, there was some talk about asking voters to approve just the first, $8 million phase of the work, meaning the town would have to go through the same process with second and third phases down the road.

But multiple voices at last week’s meeting said the town should go for the whole amount, for practical and political reasons.

Apart from getting bids that might be lower than they’d be two or three years down the road, going for the whole amount would show state and federal officials that Westport is bullish on the project. Such shows of confidence could make it easier to secure federal and state grants and loans, they surmised

“I would like to support doing this all at once,” the planning board’s James Whitin said. “To go through this process year by year is too painful. We need to do it once and get it going — it also shows the state that we’re serious and we’re going to do it.”

If voters agree that the project is needed and agree to fund it fully, Whitin estimated it would cost Westporters, per capita, $9 per month over the course of the 20 to 30-year bonds to pay off the work:

“That’s not a big problem,” he said. “We really need to do this; I think we need it for economic development .... (it) would be a boon to the Westport tax base and more than pay for a good part of the cost of this loan.”

Whatever is not covered by public bonds and state or federal grants or loans, would presumably come from some users themselves in the form of “betterment” payments.

Betterments — like connecting a home to the system — would be paid for by resident above and beyond the tax impacts they and all other Westport residents would see. But the committee’s Bob Daylor said the impact would be quite reasonable, especially given the benefits those who choose to tie in would receive:

“When it comes in in front of your house, it increases the value of your property, it allows you to expand, it allows you to abandon your septic system,” he said. “It has those benefits that don’t fall to all of us as taxpayers across the town.”

Though it’s too early to tell how much betterments could cost, “we’re trying to keep it into something that if you paid it over time, would be in the $1,000 per year range. SO we’re talking about $10-$15,000 over the life of the bonds.”

Next steps

As the oversight committee is just advisory in nature, last week’s vote does not mean the project will automatically end up before voters in April and at Town Meeting in June. Instead, select board members will review the recommendation at an upcoming meeting and make their own decision.

Select board member Manny Soares also sits on the oversight committee and supports the project. And fellos select board member Shana Shufelt, who attended, said she does too.

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