SSA onboard with state’s ‘no discharge area’ plans


In cooperation with Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration, whose goal is to make all Massachusetts’ coastal waters No Discharge Areas (NDAs), the Steamship Authority (SSA) has asked permission from Tisbury to add pump-out facilities for its ferries berthed overnight at the Vineyard Haven terminal. The discharge would flow to the town’s sewer system.

Toilets and urinals aboard SSA ferries discharge to onboard marine sanitation devices (MSDs) that operate on saltwater. Wastewater goes into tanks and through the MSD to remove most of the bacteria, Mr. Lamson said. Nitrogen is not removed, however.

Because of the MSDs, the SSA meets criteria under federal law that allow it to discharge treated wastewater in ocean waters. However, the SSA ferries discharge treated wastewater in the waters of Vineyard Sound and not in any of the port town harbors, Mr. Lamson said.

“But what the state and the coastal zone management agency want to do is to get all of the south side of Cape Cod, all state waters on the south side, and eventually the Vineyard and Nantucket, designated as no-discharge zones,” Mr. Lamson said. “That would make it illegal for us to discharge even treated sewage.”

Nevertheless, he added, “We’re behind the idea of making the whole area of the Vineyard Sound and Nantucket Sound all no-discharge areas.”

In order for the state to get the NDA designated by the department of environmental protection, all of the coastal towns near those state waters are required to certify they have adequate pump-out facilities.

Mr. Lamson said the SSA has decided to convert its saltwater wastewater systems over to freshwater systems, once onshore vessel pump-out facilities are installed and connected to the municipal sewer systems in Nantucket, Barnstable, Vineyard Haven, and Falmouth. The Oak Bluffs terminal does not require one because vessels do not berth there overnight.

In a letter to Tisbury DPW director Fred LaPiana in August 2009, Mr. Lamson estimated the SSA would pump out an average of 2,500 to 4,000 gallons of wastewater per day (gpd), at peak summer volumes. Sewage pumped from vessels berthed overnight would go into holding tanks at the terminal and then into the town sewer system.

Mr. Lamson estimated it would cost approximately $400,000 to $500,000 per terminal for sewer pump-out facilities and an additional $100,000 per vessel for modifications, for a total of about $3 million. Once the pump-out facilities are up and running, the SSA would incur additional costs for supplying the ferries with fresh water every day and wastewater treatment fees.

Mr. Lamson said he has approvals from Nantucket and Barnstable and is waiting on Tisbury and Falmouth for adequate sewer-flow allocations to move forward with the pump-out facility projects. He said he has also applied for federal funding to help defray some of the capital costs.

“Once we get this resolved with the towns, we can start putting this into our capital planning and award a contract for installation of pump-out facilities,” Mr. Lamson said.

When those are completed, Mr. Lamson said the SSA would try to coordinate vessel modifications, which must be done at a shipyard, during regularly scheduled overhauls. He estimated that would take two to three years.