Making Democracy Work

Board of Health

Stephanie Miele, Observer Submitted June 2018

Mission Statement: "The mission of the Falmouth Board of Health is to protect and promote the health, safety, and well-being of the residents and visitors of the Town of Falmouth."

The primary functions of the Board of Health to achieve our mission are to: prevent and control disease, enforce state and local regulations, promulgate local health regulations, identify and protect from environmental hazards, and advocate for a healthy community.

The Board of Health meets on alternate Mondays at 6:30 in the Civil Defense Room at Town Hall. The members of the Board are: Diana Molloy, chairperson, Stephen Rafferty, John Waterbury,and new members Kevin Kroeger and Benjamin Van Mooy. Also attending each meeting is health agent Scott McGann. All meetings are recorded.

This year was a year of changes for the Board. Two longtime members, Jared Goldstone and George Heufelder, had to step down when their terms expired. They were replaced by Kevin Kroeger and Emily Michele Olmsted. Emily also stepped down after a few months on the Board and she was replaced by Benjamin Van Mooy. Health agent David Carignan retired in the spring and was replaced by Scott McGann. Scott had worked in Falmouth as the assistant health agent for more than 10 years. He left Falmouth in 2015 to work as a global quality assurance food safety specialist for Whole Foods but has now returned. Also, current assistant health agent Mallory Langer has been away for several months on a military commitment, but she will return soon.

Scott has begun placing a health department issue on each agenda to be discussed by the Board. Issues may include food safety, housing/nuisance programs, and restaurant/odor problems, for example. It has been difficult doing inspections for both restaurants and rental properties because of a shortage of personnel, especially with the absence of Mallory. Scott was finally able to hire a temporary assistant health agent for the duration of her absence. The Board discussed the problem of identifying rentals, especially when private parties decide to rent rooms or apartments. Landlords are supposed to register, and there is a fee for licenses. But unless there is a specific complaint, there is no enforcement mechanism. There is usually a big spike in complaints as the season begins and winter rentals must leave. Hotels are inspected as a matter of course. When restaurants are inspected, if there are any violations, they must be closed immediately until the violations are remedied. The question arose as to whether the Board should organize a fee structure that would bring in income to pay for a full-time inspector. This will be a subject for future discussion.

One of the regular items of business is the granting of variances for septic upgrades. An issue that continues to arise with the installation of alternative technology systems is the problem of non-compliance where the required schedule of inspections is not maintained. The Health Department must follow up on this. Some people come before the Board requesting relief from the number of inspections required. These requests can be granted if the system runs in accordance with the Board's monitoring systems compliance requirements and has had 8 consecutive inspections with favorable results. The Board can allow a reduction to one inspection per year as long as the nitrogen reading is in compliance. If not, the number of inspections must revert to the number in the original contract. The Board intends to refine and clarify the language for compliance. The health agent suggested that the Board then revert to local regulations so that he can examine the test results and determine compliance. If this is done the Board will not become overburdened with examining all test results as the number of these systems increases. He can then present only systems that do not have acceptable results for follow-up. A problem can arise when the property is sold and the new owners do not understand the reasons and/or regulations for maintaining these systems.

Recently an engineer presented a request for the owner of a home for variances on a property that had received a variance in 2002 providing that the 3 bedroom home always remained a 3 bedroom home. The owner has returned wanting to install an upgraded (IA) system but also increasing the home to 5 bedrooms. It is a voluntary upgrade that should yield a 50% reduction in nitrogen, even with 5 bedrooms. There was much debate about the benefits and long-term consequences of increasing the number of bedrooms. Variances are usually granted if the property cannot be used without it, not if the owner is creating the need by increasing the number of bedrooms. What are the ramifications for the future? The Board will draft a request for guidance from the DEP.

Much time this year was spent on the revision of rules for public and semi-public swimming pools, following the accidental drowning of a child last summer. There were several public hearings during which many hotel, motel, and condominium owners and managers and first responders expressed concerns, made requests, and asked questions that became the basis for the new regulations developed by the Board. This was a very complex situation involving such issues as the types of fencing, types of locks, height of locks and fencing, direction of door openings, lighting in and around the pool, emergency telephones, familiarizing guests and residents about pool rules, adult vs. child ratio, the age at which a person is considered an adult in the pool area, life guards vs. adult supervision, creating a map which will lead first responders to the pool area, and penalties for non compliance.

The Board works well as a unit and continues to be concerned and courteous to the people who appear before it. The members follow the open meeting law, but there was one incident where there was a long discussion about abandonment of septic systems that was not on the agenda. A gentleman was allowed to present a previously approved plan for some change. A decision was finally made to end the discussion and place him on the agenda for a future meeting.

When Scott McGann came on as health agent I expressed concern that no minutes of the Board of Health meetings had been posted. He promised to look into this, and in a very short time the problem was remedied. Thank you, Scott.

The Board is now in the process of prioritizing goals for discussion and action for 2018/2019.