Members of the Sewer and Water Commissioners were highly skeptical of a plan proposed by the Department of Corrections for Walpole to provide a portion or all of the water supply to area prisons, including MCI-Cedar Junction, but left open the possibility for further discussion at their meeting Monday night.
Jeffrey Quick, director of DOC’s Division of Resource Management and engineer William Nunnery asked the board to consider a proposal that would connect Walpole’s water line to Cedar Junction and Pondville Correctional Center and eventually MCI-Norfolk and Bay State Correctional Institute, as well.
“Back in Sept. of 2011 the Norfolk/Walpole complex experienced a significant water emergency where we lost water pressure to the entire complex,” Quick said. “Since then we’ve been taking measures to improve the system both through water conservation and equipment improvements.”
DOC is looking at long-term options to supply water to the area prisons and is asking Walpole to provide a minimum of 150,000 gallons of water per day to Cedar Junction and Pondville and a maximum of 350,000 gallons of water per day for all four security facilities.
Other options “would be to try to develop new groundwater sources in conjunction with the town of Norfolk, construct an on-site treatment plant to treat the waters that are there and expand the wells,” Nunnery said.
The four prisons are currently served by three on-site wells, one of which has rust at two-thirds of its capacity, Nunnery said. They also have an emergency tie-in with the town of Norfolk, who gets that water from Wrentham.
Commissioner Kevin Muti was vehemently against the proposal.
“I’m going to come right out in front with you and say I don’t support this at all. I think you have some options and I think the options that have been identified…I think these are options you need to explore and you need to find alternative ways - instead of tapping into our system - of remediating your problems. I don’t support this whatsoever,” Muti said.
Commissioner Roger Turner agreed, saying, “I would think that you would want to consider, very seriously consider improving your well fields and building a treatment facility. I think in the long-term that would take care of your storage tanks.”
Town Meeting member Cliff Snuffer, who also spoke out against the proposal, said that the town’s water is its “most precious commodity.”
Water and Sewer Commission Chair Patrick Fasanello asked whether the DOC has the potential for the development of water somewhere on the 780-acre property.
“The potential is enough to satisfy the needs of DOC,” Nunnery responded.
Fasanello replied by saying, “Basically you’re trying to do this on the cheap. You’re coming to us hoping that we’ll give you water so you don’t have to build the infrastructure that we spent millions and millions of dollars on. Because we have two treatment plants, we have a whole bunch of infrastructure that supports this, you want to get into that because you don’t want to build one yourself.”
Quick replied saying, “Basically, we don’t want to be in the water business.”
Fasanello said he would be interested in hearing what the DOC would be able to give Walpole in return for the water.
“I’d like to see what DOC would even have in mind, what they would be considering,” he said.
“We don’t even know if we have enough to give you,” he said. The town would need engineers to make that determination.
Muti said he didn’t think the proposal needed further discussion.
“I don’t think it’s prudent on the part of the Sewer and Water Commission to pursue this any further. I don’t think it’s necessary for us as a board to expend resources and time and money to pursue engineering and to pursue any type of resource to investigate this any further,” he said.
He then made a motion to terminate discussions with the DOC about the issue.
The commissioners voted 3-2 against Muti’s motion.
“I just feel that it does no harm to give them a fair hearing and if they have more information they would like to present to us I wouldn’t want to close off that avenue,” Fasanello said.
Asked if DOC would continue in discussions with the town of Walpole after the meeting, Quick replied, “We were just asking if there was a potential there and I think it was clear that they said that there wasn’t. We’re already proceeding with designs for system upgrades within our well fields. We just had to explore this before we got any further.”
Quick also said that he did not believe that the recent funding cuts to the prison mitigation funds had any impact on the opinions of the commissioners.