About the only thing missing at Tuesday's meeting of the Oak Bluffs selectmen with seasonal residents was the tar and feathers. Town leaders took a verbal drubbing from residents fed up with delays, costs and the visual impact of the town sewer project.
"I've never seen a sewer system that was in your face, and I've been all over the world," said James White of Narragansett avenue. "It's supposed to be underground and all you see is manhole covers. How can you pay the contractors that made this monstrosity?"
Some 50 residents turned out for the meeting, and while they applauded selectmen's efforts to restrict moped rentals, they were happy with little else.
If any theme rose to the surface through all the anger, it was that residents felt confused and frustrated about a range of issues related to this town's version of the Big Dig. And it wasn't just the 37 electric panel boxes all over the town center that have outraged residents since they went up last spring.
The summer people wanted answers: How much would users pay once they tied in, and how could they avoid getting gouged by plumbers when they hired one to hook up to the system?
There were so many questions that selectman Roger Wey urged his board to schedule another meeting this month just to inform residents about wastewater issues alone. "This has to be cleared up for people," Mr. Wey said, calling for project engineers and members of the town wastewater committee to attend the special meeting.
While Mr. Wey's suggestion won support from the board, it didn't completely cool down the mood in the room. And while some residents were thankful for the lemonade and cookies laid out on a table, refreshments alone couldn't quiet this crowd.
On the topic of panel boxes and grinder pumps, one woman criticized efforts to disguise the boxes under paint or behind plants. "Why paint something in front of my porch that I hate?" she asked.
Michael Dutton, chairman of the selectmen, could only say that his board didn't like the boxes any more than residents did. "We know they're an eyesore," he said. "We need to continue to look at long-range plans for a solution."
He added later that the cost of moving or burying the noxious boxes would be well over $1 million. "That's not something the town can absorb right now," he said.
Another woman asked whether the panel boxes and the 250 grinder pumps will make noise once they are switched into gear. "How noisy are they? Do we have any idea?" she asked.
Sewer project manager Bill Reich, who was asked by selectmen to stay for the session, said in response, "Will you hear anything? It's like an underground garbage disposal, eight feet down. You won't hear the electrical motor running."
As for the electric panel boxes, he said that they're insulated and the only noise might be an occasional click. The woman was unconvinced. "I can only say I have a garbage disposal at home," she said, "and that thing is noisy."
Harold Jackson of Narragansett avenue was just as skeptical about the sewer system, and he launched into a tirade against selectmen.
"I can't believe you guys let them put those boxes in there," he began. "You guys don't know what you're doing." He called the engineers "salesman," accused leaders of being part of a "good old boys club," asked selectmen to resign and railed over the cost to build and now operate the system. His comments, while extreme, earned sustained applause from the audience.
Clearly, this was no vote of confidence either in selectmen or in the sewer system slated to go on-line in October. One man asked whether this kind of design "was installed elsewhere, or are we just guinea pigs?"
Mr. Dutton answered that one, saying that while the system was "cutting-edge technology," similar designs are being used in Newport, R.I., and in Ogunquit, Me.
Residents were not pleased to hear that selectmen have recently abandoned their plans to have the system run by a private company. Bids came in too high, and now selectmen say they'll staff the sewer treatment on their own.
"You haven't hired anyone to run the plant?" asked a resident of Pequot avenue. "And with about 500 users, it could have cost as much as $600,000 a year? We were looking at one to two thousand dollars a year in costs."
She paused for a moment and then added, "I was looking forward to this, but this has been a nightmare from the boxes to the cost."
The evening was not without compliments. One woman thanked the town for cleaning up the town beach, and a man said he appreciated the chocolate chip cookies and cool lemonade.
But if there was some irony in the evening, it's that selectmen spent some portion of the early part of the evening complaining about the sewer project themselves.
Selectman Richard Combra took aim at the pump station being built at the corner of Lake and Dukes County avenues, an area of high visibility as people drive into town.
"Engineers told us that the two vaults on that corner would be only 10 inches above ground," he said. "I was totally shocked at that installation. It's just as unacceptable as some of the other issues."