The role of infrastructure in development patterns;

Why a Cold Spring Road water line wouldn’t be “free”


Submitted by William Moomaw, Ph.D., chemist

Professor of International Environmental Policy

Director of the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy

Tufts University

(resident of Williamstown, former Planning Board member)


Towns are shaped by the decisions of individuals and collective actions of town policy. 


There are only two real tools available to determine whether a town grows in a manner compatible with its New England history -- a compact center or series of clustered neighborhoods --or if it becomes a sprawling set of strip type developments along its major roads. 


The former promotes neighborhoods and cost effective town services in a congenial context, while the latter generates high on going costs, and a loss of historic and scenic settings.  Through the careful location of water and sewer lines coordinated with appropriate planning and zoning, a town can shape its destiny. 


Town's that have failed to do this effectively have suffered severe sprawl and uncontrolled development with a major loss in their character.


In the 1970s, several of the same actors were involved in proposing a large gravity  sewer line along Route 7, Cold Spring Road, to address pollution problems in two of Williamstown's streams. 


Following considerable discussion, the voters of Williamstown decided instead to opt for an alternative small diameter pressurized line that would solve the existing problems, but not allow additional growth that could not be met by on site waste disposal.  This decision has clearly worked to prevent large scale development along that corridor while allowing small scale additions of new homes.  


In short, the strategy worked, and Williamstown received over $1million in federal funds for its innovative approach. If the very large scale proposed water line is added, the question arises as to whether there is sufficient capacity in the sewer line to hold the waste that would be generated. 


A 2003 report from the engineering firm CDM suggests that the estimated  20,000 gallons per day that might be released by the Clark Art Institute could only be accommodated by releasing it only during slack times between 11 PM and 5 AM. 


There is nothing in the study that deals with future growth of Clark usage or any of the additional flows that might arise from the expansion at Sweetwood or the hundred or more additional houses, businesses or other structures that might be built to use the available water. 


There is also nothing to suggest or to require that the Clark or any one else release their waste flows only at off-peak times. Where is the study that shows that  the water input from a 16 inch water main can be disposed of by a 2.5 inch sewer line?  Most communities that have much more severe water problems have used water reduction requirements to lower their operating costs, but there is no such provision in this proposal.


In short, while it may appear that the water line is free, it in fact comes with a heavy future price tag.  If it is built, the Town will need to add a large sewer line in the future and then extend the fire district, road maintenance and other town services to serve the expanded population that will inevitably spring up in the path of a new water and eventually a new sewer line.  In the process Williamstown will loose its essential character, as it sprawls across the landscape and we will all loose the most spectacular setting in New England.