Wellfleet plans to purchase Maurice’s Campground, cesspools a concern
WELLFLEET — On a recent sunny afternoon, the sprawling Maurice’s Campground was filled with RVs, campers and tents.
Some belong to seasonal workers from nearby restaurants and businesses, desperate for housing. Others have returned repeatedly for vacation over the years. One woman, a wedding planner, uses the space as her home base.
Owner John Gauthier navigated the site’s winding paths easily in a golf cart, pointing out guests by name.
“It’s a real community here,” said Gauthier.
The 21.5 acre property between Route 6 and the Cape Cod Rail Trail will be the subject of a special town meeting in September. On Sept. 10, voters will gather to decide whether to buy the campground for $6.5 million.
In April, the Select Board announced it had signed a purchase and sale agreement with the owners, touting a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
A closing date is set for Oct. 31, pending town meeting approval.
But ahead of that vote, the town is weighing options on how to deal with the 35 cesspools on the property.
35 cesspools at the campground property need to be addressed
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a cesspool is a shallow, underground system for disposing of sanitary waste. Most consist of a concrete cylinder with an open bottom and may have perforated sides.
Waste from toilets, sinks and washing machines enters the cesspool and seeps out. Cesspools are designed to capture such waste, but don’t treat it, according to the EPA.
One possible route is asking the Board of Health for a waiver to allow use of the existing system when the town operates the campground, according to Wellfleet Affordable Housing Trust member Harry Terkanian. He said it would not make sense to design, build and install a septic system “to service what’s on the property now if it would not be there in five, six, 10 years from now.”
“We want to avoid having to do a big ticket item twice,” said Terkanian during a meeting of the town Campground Working Group. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to convince the Board of Health it’s an appropriate thing to do.”
According to Kathleen Nagle, a local real estate agent with Kinlin Grover Real Estate and a member of the Affordable Housing Trust, the waiver plan also prevents the Gauthier family from having to upgrade the cesspools themselves.
“We know the cesspools are an automatic fail — to be able to sell your property, you have to upgrade them to Title 5 septics,” said Nagle at the meeting. “So we already know, without inspecting them, that’s the problem.”
While the cesspools currently operate well, according to Nagle, she said the town can exit the deal if that discontinues.
Town has ability to walk away from the deal, according to town officials
“Within the purchase and sale agreement, there’s a number of opportunities for the town to walk away, if they should decide to do that,” said Nagle.
Select Board Chairman Ryan Curley said the board is still “evaluating strategies” and had to wait until a report on the conditions of the buildings, structures and infrastructure on the site was complete, as that effort was tying up resources.
“We have done some initial work on the septic issues and we will be intensively working on addressing them throughout the summer,” wrote Curley in an email to the Cape Cod Times.
Purchase of the campground could help increase the town’s affordable housing inventory
A successful purchase could make a dent in the town’s housing crisis. Currently, just 2.5% of the town’s housing stock is classified as affordable. Each city and town should have at least 10% of its housing stock deemed affordable, according to state goals.
Maurice’s Campground has been owned by the Gauthier family since 1949. The site includes 12 cabins, 16 tent sites and more than 180 campsites, some of which are seasonal rentals.
The campground, nestled next to the Cape Cod National Seashore, has 240 sites and, at peak season, can house 500 to 600 people, according to Gauthier.
As part of the agreement with the sellers, the town will run parts of the campground for six years to allow long-term seasonal residents to come up with other plans.
The Wellfleet Select Board created a working group, made up of stakeholders, committee members and members of town departments, to examine the proposed purchase of the property. The group is also divided into smaller panels.
Focuses of the subgroups include infrastructure, septic issues, finances, operations and communications.
If the special town meeting vote in September is successful, a planning committee will be formed to study how the property can best be used to meet community needs.