NEW BEDFORD (WBSM) — New Bedford, Dartmouth and other towns and cities on the SouthCoast won’t be required to follow the state’s new rules to upgrade septic systems.

Governor Maura Healey and the Department of Environmental Protections (DEP) announced Thursday the new regulations under Title 5 – the state’s rules for septic systems – would only require Cape Cod homeowners to change their septic systems to filter nitrogen.

The department said the regulations are in place to reduce nitrogen pollution in bays and bodies of waters such as Buzzards Bay.

The pollution can spur the growth of aquatic plants such as algae, which absorbs oxygen in the water.

An earlier draft of the proposal released last year included the SouthCoast as an area homeowners would be required to upgrade their systems. This decision angered residents and lawmakers, who said the move would cost homeowners an estimated $50,000 to upgrade their systems.

In a press release on Wednesday, State Senator Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford) praised Healey’s decision to exclude the SouthCoast in the regulations.

“I commend Governor Healey for her thoughtful attention to this matter and for following through on our very positive communications since she took office," Montigny said.

“Without a compelling scientific justification and financial assistance from the state, there was absolutely no way that it would be appropriate to burden hardworking homeowners across the SouthCoast with new septic rules," he said. "Nitrogen pollution is a real environmental problem, but there are far more serious contributors in our region than household septic systems.”

Rep. Bill Straus (D-Mattapoisett) also commended the Healey administration for the changes and said it provides relief for taxpayers.

“I am pleased that DEP today revised their proposed new watershed regulations in a way which will save residents in the SouthCoast from the immediate extreme costs of septic system changes,” Straus said. “As proposed last October, the DEP plan had not taken into account the full impact on this region.”

In December 2022, Montigny, Rep. Chris Markey (D-Dartmouth), Dartmouth Health Director Chris Michaud and members of the SouthCoast legislative delegation sent a letter to the Healey administration and the DEP pushing back on the proposal.

They wrote that Dartmouth, New Bedford and surrounding towns have different coastline needs than Cape Cod and the language did not provide significant funding from the state to help homeowners install new systems.

In a statement, Deputy Regional Director of Administration Jennifer Viveiros said the department's decision to exclude the SouthCoast was based on public comments and feedback from residents and public officials who said pollutants may differ from the Cape and that more time is needed to create a plan.

“MassDEP carefully considered input from over 1,000 public comments, five public hearings, four information sessions, and more than 45 meetings with municipalities and regional groups and made a number of revisions that have been incorporated into the final regulations,” Viveros said.

“MassDEP will continue to work with communities on the SouthCoast and the Islands to plan for and address nutrient pollution to embayments and estuaries and to consider appropriate steps to ensure timely action is taken to address water quality issues," she said.

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