Developer asks Oak Bluffs to spare bowling alley septic costs

The bowling alley lanes are beginning to take shape in Oak Bluffs. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Updated 4:30 pm, Tuesday

The developers of a bowling alley and sports bar on Uncas Avenue were scheduled to go before the Oak Bluffs board of wastewater commissioners Wednesday, March 11, to seek a sewer hookup permit. That meeting has been postponed due to the absence of Hans Von Steiger, who will be unable to attend.

Sam Dunn and Bob Sawyer, partners in the project, said a decision to deny the hookup would cost them an additional $250,000 for an advanced septic system.

“We have a project that is worthy in every other respect of the town’s cooperation,” Mr. Dunn said in a phone interview last Wednesday. “It only seems logical to me that we wouldn’t be put to this expense. What’s the sewer for?”

The proposed bowling alley and sports bar attracted considerable support from town leaders and Island residents, and opposition from neighbors. During extended review before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) as a development of regional impact (DRI), Mr. Dunn offered to install an approved septic system capable of removing nitrogen from wastewater. Mr. Dunn estimated the cost of the advanced septic system at $300,000.

The MVC approved the project on March 21, 2014, with a determination that the project would have a minimal impact on the environment. The denitrification septic system, with specific targets for the amount of nitrogen allowed to leave the property in effluent, was written into the decision as a condition of approval.

Ten weeks later, at the May 7, 2014, meeting of wastewater commissioners, Mr. Dunn appeared before wastewater commissioners to ask for approval to hook into the town sewer system, at his expense, estimated at $50,000. While the existing sewer main runs along nearby Circuit Avenue, the bowling alley location is not on a street approved for sewer hookups by the commissioners.

Wastewater commissioners have granted a limited number of permits for sewer hookups since 2008, when they set a policy of reserving limited plant capacity for homes and businesses who already have a legal right to hook up, and for future sewer projects. They have also denied a number of requests.

The board set a priority for future projects along the Oak Bluffs side of Lagoon Pond, identified as an area where septic systems threaten the health of the popular salt pond.

The town has completed construction of two new effluent beds that could substantially increase capacity, on a parcel adjacent to the treatment plant known as the Leonardo property. The commissioners have applied for a variance from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to begin using the new beds, which do not comply with current water-quality standards.

At the May 7 meeting, commissioner Gail Barmakian, who is also a selectman, said she would not commit to a permit, a view echoed by commissioner Hans Von Steiger. After a discussion, the commissioners voted to issue a letter to Mr. Dunn in which they said they “would look favorably upon hooking the requested [bowling alley] project up to the town wastewater system, dependent upon when, and if, DEP approves the use of the Leonardo effluent beds.”

Ms. Barmakian spoke against the bowling alley during the MVC public hearing process. In a telephone interview Wednesday, she said that the letter did not commit the board to granting the permit.

“It’s a question of our capacity, and what is best for the plant and the users,” said Ms. Barmakian. “We would be departing from policy from anything we have ever done since I’ve been on the board.”

Board chairman Bob Iadacicco said in a phone interview Tuesday that he favors a permit. He said while the board’s priority is for extending the sewer line to the Lagoon Pond neighborhoods, there are no plans in the works for such a project.

“To reserve capacity for something in the future, I don’t know how far, is kind of foolish in terms of what’s best for the town,” Mr. Iadacicco said.

Mr. Von Steiger could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Dunn said he needs a decision within 30 days in order to meet his schedule to open the bowling alley in early summer. He said it was impossible to say whether the project would be imperiled if the wastewater commissioners deny his request for a sewer hookup.