Ocean Park repair plan set, in deal with state
The storm runoff, drainage, and wastewater issues which have caused soggy ground in Ocean Park must be repaired by June of 2011, under a new agreement between the Oak Bluffs wastewater district and the state Department of Environmental Protections (DEP). Wastewater District commissioners took the first step toward fixing the problems on Tuesday, by voting a moratorium on new sewer hookups. The moratorium extends even to areas of town previously approved for tie-in to the system. It will allow time to work on Ocean Park without increasing the amount of treated effluent flowing to leaching beds under the town's signature park.
The DEP issued a notice of non-compliance to the town in September of 2008 after a site investigation confirmed that the treated effluent was periodically breaking the surface of Ocean Park. The notice orders the town to prevent any further discharge. Wastewater plant manager Joe Alosso said there is no health threat to the public. The treated wastewater pumped to the park is clean enough to meet federal standards for drinking water.
An engineering study subsequently determined that several of the 28 leaching beds under the park were not working, but that the majority of surface water on the park was the result of irrigation and storm water runoff.
Tuesday's meeting in Oak Bluffs between state regulators and wastewater district commissioners became a bargaining session of sorts, with the DEP first taking the position that the leaching beds needed to be replaced or repaired by summer 2010.
"With a sewer moratorium in place, we think a year is a fair amount of time," said Frank Mezzacappa of the DEP.
Town officials said that permitting, engineering, and construction by June of 2010 would put difficult time constraints on the town, given that no one wants Ocean Park dug up during the busy summer months.
"June of 2011 takes into account our seasonal use," said town manager Michael Dutton. "People start using that park from May, right through October, November."
"A two-year time frame is doable, and doesn't require us to rush and make hasty decisions," said Mr. Alosso.
Also a factor is the town's development of a parcel of land next to the treatment plant known as the Leonardo property, a site that could become a new leaching field. If that property can be developed quickly, it would lessen the load on Ocean Park. With significantly less effluent flowing to the park, the town would have the option to simply close down several deteriorated leaching beds under the park, rather than replace or repair them. Mr. Alosso said a preliminary engineering study indicates that the Leonardo property is a suitable site for new leaching facilities, but more tests are needed.
"Right now, we're not discussing the Leonardo property," said Mr. Mezzacappa. "That's just a twinkle in our eye. Right now, all you have is Ocean Park."
In the end, the two sides reached a compromise. The state will give the town until June of 2011 to complete the repair or replacement of the Ocean Park leaching beds, but will require complete engineering plans and all permitting done by the end of this year.
"With a sewer moratorium in place, you have the capacity for a peak day," said Mr. Mezzacappa. "You're back isn't that tight against the wall."
The consent agreement will include a schedule of fines and penalties if the town fails to meet the deadlines outlined for engineering, permitting, and construction.
While the moratorium on new sewer hookups gives the wastewater district some breathing room to fix Ocean Park, it has other consequences. Ecologically sensitive areas like Sengekontacket Pond are already under strain from a variety of factors, including nitrogen loading from private septic systems. "The sooner the moratorium is lifted, the better for Sengekontacket," said selectman Duncan Ross, who is active in efforts to restore the health of the popular saltwater pond.