Oak Bluffs wastewater commission approves sewer tie-in for bowling alley

In a 2-1 vote, commissioners favored sewering over an advanced septic system.

Monday afternoon workers were busy preparing the bowling lanes. –Photo by Nelson Sigelman

In a vote that balanced present realities against future plans, the Oak Bluffs wastewater commission voted 2-1 on March 19 to allow Sam Dunn and Robert Sawyer, the builders of a new bowling alley and sports bar restaurant on Uncas Avenue, to tie into the town sewer system.

Commissioners Hans Von Steiger and Bob Iadacicco voted to allow the hookup. Commissioner Gail Barmakian, who is also a selectman, voted against it.

A major issue in the discussion that preceded last Thursday’s vote was the capacity of the system, future expansion plans, and the goal of sewering homes along the Oak Bluffs side of Lagoon Pond.

As currently designed, the 13,500-square-foot building will have 10 bowling lanes, a bar, a restaurant, two golf simulators, a game room, an event room, and two apartments that will qualify as affordable housing.

“Originally, the sewer was built to service the downtown,” commission chairman Hans Von Steiger told The Times in a telephone call following the vote. “As far as I’m concerned the bowling alley is downtown, so servicing it is within the original intent of the actions that were taken to put in the wastewater treatment plant.”

Mr. Von Steiger added that he thinks “the Barn,” as the bowling alley will be known, will be a positive addition to the town. The developers will have to pay a $2,500 betterment fee and all costs associated with tying into the established sewer line. Mr. Von Steiger said the the developers offered to make a $20,000 donation to the wastewater commission on top of the cost of hooking up to the system, but that the commission immediately declined. “We didn’t want to do anything that smacked of impropriety,” he said. “So we suggested it go to the town, and let the selectmen decide what to do with it.”

In comments prior to the vote, Ms. Barmakian, who opposed the development during the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) permitting process, said the bowling alley would use up capacity needed for sewering around the Lagoon, and that giving it an exemption was not fair to previous applicants that, like the Barn, were not on the town sewer line and had also sought an exemption.

“I’m disappointed; I think it’s shortsighted,” she told The Times Monday. “The Lagoon [sewering] is not and shouldn’t be as far away as the other commissioners seem to think.”

Mr. Von Steiger said that there is a great deal of research to be done on Lagoon Pond and that sewering the area will be extremely costly, with preliminary estimates ranging between $8 million and $12 million.

“I would love to see the Lagoon area sewered, but obviously 100 people coming on the line will not cover a debt service of that magnitude,” he said. “We have to be watchful on our spending. We can’t go to the town and ask it to pay 50 percent of it. The town can’t afford it.”

With regard to plant capacity, he said that there is an optimization study currently being done, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to determine how the current plant can be run more efficiently, and what cost-effective measures can be taken to expand capacity. The study is expected to be completed this summer.

The commission is awaiting final EPA approval on new effluent beds, built across the street from the plant on Pennsylvania Avenue. However, additional effluent beds do not affect plant capacity; rather they will make up the lost capacity of the troublesome effluent beds under Ocean Park. “If we find more capacity in the plant through this optimization study, that can also go to the new beds,” Mr. Von Steiger said. He said he is optimistic the EPA permit is close to approval. The 30-day public comment period, one of the final hurdles, begins late this week.

Pleased with decision

On March 6, partners Sam Dunn and Robert Sawyer won the unanimous approval of the MVC for a bowling alley designed with a $300,000 septic and denitrification system. Ten weeks later, on May 7, Mr. Dunn appeared before the wastewater commissioners to seek approval to tie in to the sewer system.

“We’re very pleased with the decision, and we think it was the right decision because the purpose of the sewer in its original incarnation was for commercial development,” Mr. Dunn told The Times Monday.

Mr. Dunn said it’s too early to tell exactly how much tying into the established sewer line will cost, and that earlier estimates of $50,000 may be well under the final number.

Mr. Dunn said the proposed septic system was a fallback in case the wastewater commission did not approve the tie-in, but that the builders had always intended to apply for an exemption. Mr. Dunn estimates the cost of construction of the bowling alley complex at $2.5 million. He said he fully intends to follow through with the $20,000 donation to the town.

The MVC must still approve a change in the conditions of approval to allow sewering in place of a septic system.

Mr. Dunn expects the bowling alley to open in late April.