To the editor:
A casual reader of your opinion page could get the impression that there is an environmental mafia in the process of covertly overthrowing Westport’s town government. One might believe that the Westport River Watershed Alliance, the Westport Fishermen Association and the town’s Estuary Committee are conspiring to ransom the first borne male child of every family in Westport in exchange for millions of dollars to increase their salaries. One would expect the tax rate to be soaring in Westport if all this was true. Who are these “special interests” and what are they trying to do? Why won’t they just leave us alone?
Maybe they are part of the socialist takeover of the entire country. Perhaps they will force us all to use composting toilets! What if they made all of us put solar systems on our homes and rain barrels on our downspouts?
Unfortunately, it’s not that exciting. Like Tim Gillespie says in his response, these “special interests” are citizens volunteering thousands of hours to make Westport a better place to live by keeping its rare natural beauty and environmental gifts intact. The employees of these organizations are working for relatively low wages compared to the private sector because they take pride in protecting and improving the environment. We think of ourselves as giving the environment a voice.
Property taxes in Westport are some of the lowest in the Commonwealth (ranked 21st lowest at $7.05/thousand in 2012) because many people want to live along the unspoiled water views that Westport offers. Keeping it unspoiled and resolving pollution issues protects Westport’s property tax base. Tourists come to Westport to enjoy the beautiful environment and they spend their dollars here in the process. It can be said that the environment is Westport’s economy.
Some people might think we do this in a vacuum with no regard for the ability of local residents to pay the cost but that is far from the truth. We understand the financial limitations the town is under and we work within them. For example, WRWA played an important role in bringing the Community Septic Management Program (CSMP) to Westport. The CSMP enables homeowners to use low interest financing for up to 20 years to pay for septic system upgrades. Oh yea, it’s good for the environment too.
This year WRWA spent $18,915 of our own Watershed Improvement Funds (WIF) specifically for in-the-ground projects to improve water quality and shell fishing beds in the town of Westport. Since 2006, WRWA has spent $209,110 in WIF money to put projects in the ground that benefit the Westport River which benefits Westport’s economy. On top of that we spent $99,258 to educate Westport students about the environment and the Westport River watershed. In past years it has been more. All of WRWA’s income comes from members and private sources except for $2,500 from the School Committee.
In regard to the Community Preservation Committee and the town contract with UMass Dartmouth, WRWA was included in the contract as a subcontractor to collect the water samples for $4,000 because we are qualified to do so. However, we have not taken any money to date and we have decided to do without the money and provide the service for free. We will do the same for the next contract. Keep in mind that this contract was approved by the CPC, the selectmen, town counsel and town meeting. As far as it being, in Mr. Ledoux’s words, “… hundreds of thousands of over-2 ½ tax cap funds…” it was a $60,000 contract over two years.
The testing is necessary to provide a more accurate analysis of the sources of the nitrogen in the East Branch of the Westport River. It requires two continuous years worth of data and therein lies the urgency, in spite of Mr. Ledoux’s claims that there is none. Accurate and timely data help UMass Dartmouth target the most likely sources of nitrogen and in the end that will help us minimize future costs to the taxpayer.
WRWA’s mission is to protect and improve the Westport River and its watershed. I firmly believe that our mission is in the best interest of Westport’s taxpayers … all of its taxpayers, north or south, wealthy or not.
Matthew C. Patrick,
Westport River Watershed Alliance