To Preserve and Protect
This took major advances in public policy. In 2018, legislature expanded an existing hotel motel tax to include home stays. For those renting their home, there is a tax applied to renters for 30 days or less. Added to that is a 2.75% surcharge that goes to fund waste water treatment on the Cape for the Cape exclusively. “About half of what we need for infrastructure in terms of the cost is driven by the seasonal peaks. To build a sewer system, it needs to be able to function Fourth of July weekend, and it functions at that level the entire year. You need to build that capacity, and that capacity increment is very expensive to build,” Gottlieb describes. In a matter of two legislative cycles, the bill was signed and in action. In addition to funding the waste water, it leveled the playing field between hotels and the previously untaxed homestays. “It was something worth supporting because it wasn’t a new tax, it was applying an existing tax in a more uniform and rational basis given where the marketplace was. It’s as good of an example of public sector response to a complex problem that I’m aware of,” Gottlieb continues. The Cape and Islands Water Protection Fund is locally governed by the 15 towns. In April 2021 the fund awarded 71 million dollars to eight Cape communities to finance their waste water programs.
Each town will choose to implement and finance the waste water systems in their own way. The county plan functioned on a decentralized basis; rather than being constraied by town boundaries, it followed the ecological boundaries of the watershed. “Each town manages their portion of the load respective to that water body. The resource becomes the driver, not the municipal boundary,” Gottlieb says. This allows the water itself to be the endangered species that we are protecting, and it further becomes what is measured to determine this success.
As it has taken the past three decades to intensify and enact these efforts, it may take another few decades to see these sewage systems across the Cape. Once interventions begin, improvements will be seen quickly. “We’re headed in the right direction. Nothing starts until you do something,” Gottlieb believes.
“One of the unexpected outcomes of the pandemic has been people’s reconnection to the natural world and why they seek out Cape Cod. Steve’s photographs are just a small, visually stunning slice of the pie. People seek this out for real reasons. They want the solitude, and yes, the distance from people, but there’s a regenerative nature of being out in this world. And then, when you start to take it away, you have a really strong reaction,” Gottlieb says.
“We’re seeing that now with our pond work where we have helped inform people about the toxicity of the cyanobacteria and the blue green algae for our environment. It’s not just the aesthetic piece, but there’s a public health component where it’s dangerous for families, young children and pets to be in the water. That has created a really visceral response across the region.” Five years ago, APCC recognized freshwater quality as an important issue and has based it’s monitoring program on foundational work done by partners Nancy Leland and Dr. James Haney at the University of New Hampshire and blessed by EAP. These methods provided an inexpensive and easy manner to assess pond water quality. Its program was recently expanded to now include all 15 towns. With 996 ponds on the Cape there is a long way to go, but APCC is continuing to increase its assessment of ponds across the region. Each year, APCC publishes its ratings and evaluations of water quality in ponds, estuaries and drinking water in its “State of the Waters Report.”
APCC has fostered strong relationships and partnerships with local and statewide groups to enhance its mission. In its water quality initiatives, APCC’s partnership with the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce represented a unique collaboration across sectors. “The Chamber of Commerce was the earliest, most consistent, reliable, effective partner the environmental community has had in working towards water quality. The environment is the economy and the economy is the environment and that’s not just a slogan,” Gottlieb shares.
In addition, APCC works directly with individual town programs, as well as with smaller environmental organizations, and the National Park Service, among others. Their large volunteer base consists of experts in various fields who are passionate about sustaining Cape Cod.
Looking ahead, APCC is only continuing to grow and flourish, expanding its current initiatives and putting itself at the center of the ongoing effort to protect and preserve Cape Cod. In admiring the many vistas from the canal up to Provincetown, it is easy to assume their permanence. To continue to experience Cape Cod as we know and love it today, the initiatives of APCC are paramount (learn more at APCC.org). Thanks to the dedication and collaboration of these environmental advocates, we may cherish this natural wonder just as Thoreau did many years ago.
This is Brenna Collins’ last story as story editor at Cape Cod Life Publications. We wish her well in her new endeavors. She will be missed.
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