Lagoon group objects to sewer plan
A newly formed group dedicated to restoring water quality in Lagoon Pond appealed to the Oak Bluffs wastewater commission Wednesday to change a long-planned expansion of the town's sewer system.
The wastewater commission has applied for and received permits to install a sewer main to handle sewage from the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, The Martha's Vineyard Arena, the new YMCA building, and Woodside Village, an elderly housing development. Plans call for the sewer main to be routed from the high school area down Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, and then along County Road. Homes along that route could potentially tie into the town sewer system.
The new group, called the Joint Oak Bluffs/Tisbury Lagoon Pond Restoration Committee, wants the Wastewater Commission to install the sewer line along Barnes Road instead, where approximately 900 homes along that route could potentially tie into the town system. The committee contends that sewering the homes on the Oak Bluffs side of Lagoon Pond will reduce nitrogen from septic systems. According to scientists who study the issues, nitrogen loading is a serious threat to the health of Lagoon Pond, causing algae growth that in turn threatens eel grass, shellfish, and several species of fish.
The restoration committee presented a petition with more than 200 signatures to the wastewater commission at its Wednesday afternoon meeting, imploring the commission to change the planned route of the sewer main. "We believe the local commercial scallop industry, the eel grass, and health of the pond already are at a crisis level," reads the petition.
While lauding the formation of the committee and welcoming their discussion of concerns, wastewater manager Joe Alosso said many factors went into the decisions made by wastewater commissioners during the planning process nearly two years ago.
Among them was cost. He estimates the cost to install the sewer main along County Road is $40-$50 per foot. The main could be installed under the existing bike path by boring underground. He estimates the cost to put it along Barnes Road would reach $100-$140 per foot, in part because underground boring is not an option. Installing a sewer main on Barnes Road would involve digging a trench and repaving the road.
"We've spent $40,000 designing the line to go down County Road," Mr. Alosso said. "To change direction now would delay the project, and probably be pretty costly."
In some ways, the competition for resources is shaping up as a pond vs. pond battle. The newly formed committee says sewering will be most effective for Lagoon Pond, while dredging will do more to help Sengekontacket Pond. Sengekontacket Pond was closed to shellfishing in June of 2007, when state regulators designated the salt pond a "conditionally approved area." Shellfishing is prohibited in Sengekontacket Pond during the summer months because of sustained high levels of fecal coliform bacteria.
"Do we have to wait until shellfishing is closed and all the eelgrass dies off in the Lagoon before the town will take action?" the restoration committee asked in a letter to the wastewater commission. "We acknowledge that Sengekontacket Pond and Farm Pond also have issues, but there seems to be no major concerted effort to help Lagoon Pond."
Mr. Alosso points out that the high school, new YMCA, and other high flow facilities that will tie in under the current sewer plan lie within the Lagoon Pond watershed. He says sewering those facilities will have a direct benefit to Lagoon Pond, no matter which route the sewer main takes. He also said nitrogen loading was significantly reduced in the Lagoon Pond watershed when the Martha's Vineyard Hospital tied into the town sewer system. The hospital paid 100 percent of the cost for that project.