DEP orders Oak Bluffs to fix wastewater problem at Ocean Park
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has issued a notice of non-compliance to Oak Bluffs selectmen in connection with continuing water problems at Ocean Park. The notification follows an inspection of the wastewater leaching fields under the park conducted in August.
In recent summers, treated wastewater has seeped to the surface of the park causing mushy ground, and in some cases, standing water.
According to the non-compliance order, following a survey of Ocean Park on August 27 state inspectors determined that the leaching field "has either failed or is not performing as designed."
The DEP ordered the town to prevent any further treated effluent from reaching the surface of the park, and if it does, that area would have to be fenced off to prevent access by people or animals. The town was also ordered to turn off all irrigation systems, to hire an engineering firm to study the problem, and submit that engineering report by January 22, 2009.
Photo by Danielle Zerbonne
Town administrator Michael Dutton emphasized that the treated effluent is not a threat to public health, and said the noncompliance order did not come as a surprise.
"DEP has been working with us," said Mr. Dutton. "We've been updating them on the progress of our testing. They've known about this, it was nothing earth-shattering."
Joe Alosso, manager of the town's wastewater plant, said no wastewater has been observed seeping to the surface in recent months, and the town has not changed operations or procedures at the wastewater plant in response to the noncompliance order.
"I'm glad they sent it," said Mr. Alosso, who suspects irrigation may be at least part of the problem. He says in the past the irrigation system has pumped as much as 130,000 gallons of water per day onto the park. He said he believes that about 40,000 gallons per day was used for irrigation this past summer. "For the past three or four years I've tried to have some control over irrigation practices in the park. That hasn't happened. I, as the licensed operator, am responsible for the leaching beds. If I'm going to be responsible for the leaching beds, I should have some control over the irrigation."
Mr. Alosso said he is exploring a number of other sites in Oak Bluffs for new leaching fields. "I would like to get out of Ocean Park altogether," he said. "I'm hoping the notice of noncompliance will help me do that." He also said he hopes to have the problems in Ocean Park resolved by next summer.
The town hired the environmental engineering firm of Stearns & Wheler to study the leaching system before the DEP issued its order. In August the engineers installed data loggers in Ocean Park, and measured surface water for three weeks while the irrigation system was turned off, and the following three weeks when the irrigation system was back on.
The town is awaiting the results of that study.
There are 28 leaching fields, each a bed of crushed stone 50 feet by 100 feet, about one foot below the surface of the park. Wastewater is pumped into the leaching fields, and drains down into the groundwater system. The leaching system was designed to accept 370,000 gallons per day, but is not operating near that point of capacity. According to Mr. Alosso, on the busiest day of the year so far, 230,000 gallons were pumped into the Ocean Park leaching fields, less than two-thirds of capacity.