Edgartown sets new health rules for Ocean Heights, Arbutus Park
New wastewater disposal regulations for the Ocean Heights and Arbutus Park subdivisions approved by the Edgartown board of health last week are intended to create safer drinking water and a healthier Sengekontacket Pond. Homeowners in those neighborhoods, however, are not convinced the regulations will do either.
Peter Cook, who owns a half-acre lot on 7th Street, is not happy about the new regulations, because he expects they will prompt more development, which will adversely affect the abutting pond.
"I know they're going to affect me," Mr. Cook said Monday. Noting that town officials are saying the nitrate content in the wells in the neighborhoods is going to increase, he said, "They've decided to make sure the residents hook up to town water. The town is trying to push water in Ocean Heights."
Mr. Cook also said the board of health wants more development in the area. He lives 2,000 feet from Sengekontacket, and believes the town is ignoring the pond. He has sent a letter to the town planning board asking for clarification of the zoning regulations for the area, which has many pre-existing nonconforming small lots that were grandfathered in before new regulations were put in place in 2005. The town now requires a minimum lot size of 20,000 square feet to on which to build.
Phil Craig, who has lived on North 7th Street in Ocean Heights for 50 years, also believes the new regulations will result in more building in the neighborhood because they require most owners to hook up to town water, thus avoiding the minimum distance between wells and septic systems. The new regulations allow building on lots as small as 6,000 square feet, or a little over an eighth of an acre.
"The consequence is going to be more building, more cesspools, and more effect on Sengekontacket," Mr. Craig said. "We want to keep the pond as pure as we can."
Mr. Cook and Mr. Craig were among about 20 residents of the subdivisions who appeared at two hearings on the proposed regulations in the past two weeks. Some supported the new regulations and some preferred even more stringent regulations, Mr. Poole said. Some of the homeowners' suggestions were incorporated into the new regulations, he said.
The new rules also could be expensive for existing homeowners, who will have to replace failed septic systems under stricter limitations requiring enhanced sewage treatment. New homes also will have to comply with stricter rules for septic systems and will be required to hook up to town water immediately. No more wells will be allowed under the regulations.
The new regulations went into effect last Friday, just before a six-month moratorium on building in the two neighborhoods expired on Monday. The moratorium was prompted by concerns about the quality of well water and threats to the pond water. Calculations conducted last fall by William Wilcox, Martha's Vineyard Commission resource planner, showed higher than recommended levels of nitrogen concentration on most of the lots.
The two subdivisions, on either side of Edgartown Road, contain 357 built parcels, including 397 dwellings, 74 vacant developable parcels, and 11 potentially developable parcels, according to the assessor's records.
"The first priority is drinking water quality," health agent Matthew Poole said. "The goal is to get town water into the area." The town is anticipating bringing more town water to the two neighborhoods and the regulations are putting owners on notice that the area will be served by town water, he said.
Mr. Poole said the town will fund water tests for anyone who wants them. He recommends that at a minimum the homeowners in the affected area have an annual water test.
"People should get their water tested to confirm if it's safe to drink or not," he said.
Water is considered safe to drink if it has less than five parts per million nitrogen concentration. The pond is even more sensitive, Mr. Poole said, and is threatened when the nitrogen content exceeds 0.38 parts nitrogen per million.
The health board anticipates that many homeowners in the two neighborhoods will want to continue to use their wells, but under the new regulations, they must submit to water tests to ensure the readings are within the limits.
The area's homeowners may continue to use existing wells if the water is 100 feet away from the nearest property line, according to the new regulations. When a property is sold, the new owner must convert to town water, Mr. Poole said.
Mr. Cook, who is a builder, said bringing town water to the area allows owners of small lots, such as one next to his half-acre property, to get around the requirement of 100 feet between a septic system and a well. He said the abutting 6,000-square-foot lot, where a house was this past year, is not large enough to allow that distance, so the owner paid for a town water hookup.
The smaller lots that were grandfathered in before the new zoning regulations don't have to respect the setback requirements for septic systems, Mr. Cook said. If his septic system fails, he said he would sue the town for ignoring the setback requirements.
The regulations outline the amount of sewage flow volumes according to lot size and the number of bedrooms in a house. For example, lots between 6,000 and 10,000 square feet with a two-bedroom house cannot exceed 220 gallons of flow per day. New homes on those size lots must use an enhanced treatment nitrogen removal technology, which costs an extra $10,000, Mr. Poole said. In addition, a standard septic system costs between $10,000 and $15,000.
The restrictions on sewage flow increase 110 gallons a day for each increased lot size group and number of bedrooms. An extra 110 gallons a day is allowed if a homeowner installs an enhanced treatment system. The regulations apply to lot areas of 40,000 square feet and greater, which allow 440 gallons of wastewater flow per day with standard Title 5 treatment technology or 550 gallons a day with the enhanced treatment.
The new regulations also will require each property owner in the two subdivisions to sign a written disclosure of the potential for the areas to be served by town sewer, which would result in abandoning on-site septic systems.
"The next phase is to look at the septic," he said, but town sewers could still be several years away.
Mr. Craig said he believes the best solution would be to have a town sewer system along with town water, but he noted the high cost.
Regarding Sengekontacket Pond, the health board said, in its official statement explaining the reasons for the new regulations, that nitrogen accumulations in the groundwater are posing a potential adverse impact on the pond. The statement said the pond exhibits signs of excess nitrogen through loss of eel grass beds and accumulation of wrack algae in the pond coves.
The board noted also that within the next 18 to 36 months the town of Edgartown anticipates that the findings of the Massachusetts Estuaries Project on Sengekontacket will recommend reducing nitrogen loading to the pond. Those recommendations will probably be stricter than the health board's, Mr. Poole said.
"It's hard to determine where the pond's going, but it's probably not getting better," Mr. Poole said. He believes it's reached its "tipping point."