Smaller was not better


Years ago, after more than a decade of debate and dithering, and under pressure from the state, Tisbury constructed a purposely hobbled wastewater treatment plant. The thought was that constructing a limited system would check growth.

It was wishful thinking, akin to thinking one could stave off an expanding waistline by purchasing the same size pants year after year.

The plant was constructed to primarily serve the downtown commercial area and waterfront district, which includes the building that houses The Times. A limit on the number of users meant that any increase in the cost to operate the plant would not be offset by new customers hooking into the system.

To the extent that building a smaller system insured businesses would find it more costly to operate in Tisbury, the plan to check development worked just fine, if the goal was to maintain a generally stagnant waterfront and downtown district.

This week, Janet Hefler reports on the challenges rising system costs — fees have increased 95 percent in two years — pose to two year-round anchor businesses and to the Dukes County Housing Authority, to name just a few of the users impacted.

The Mansion House hotel will see its sewer bill increase by more than $50,000, said Joshua Goldstein, a manager in his family’s business.

Mr. Goldstein told voters at town meeting last week the town could not continue to thrive under the weight of continuing increases.

J.B. Blau, an astute restaurateur who owns and operates the Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Co. and Sharky’s restaurants in Oak Bluffs and Sharky’s in Edgartown, and who leases space in the Mansion House, where he operates the popular Copper Wok restaurant, one of Main Street’s only year-round restaurants, said he pays two to three times more for sewer services in Tisbury than in the other two Island towns. Mr. Blau said he would consider leaving the town when his lease expires.

In each case, these are year-round businesses that provide jobs and benefits for Island residents, and generate tax revenue for the town. Of equal concern, Dukes County Regional Housing Authority Executive Director David Vigneault said the proposed increase would double his sewer bill for four apartments on Lagoon Pond. Those costs would need to be subsidized by other properties.

In a recent discussion in the offices of The Times, Philippe Jordi, executive director of the Island Housing Trust, and its board president Richard Leonard, highlighted the continuing pressure infrastructure costs add to the costs of developing affordable housing. Density is one key to lowering construction costs in order to generate needed rental stock, but that must be balanced by environmental considerations, they said, in particular wastewater. Cost-effective sewering is part of the solution.

At the behest of Tisbury selectmen, who said more planning was needed, voters at town meeting turned down a request to extend the sewer system to the Vineyard Haven library and a boat pump-out facility at Owen Park.

Plans are also on the drawing boards to expand the capacity of the wastewater plant to help reduce nitrogen loading in Tashmoo Pond by extending sewering to the B-2 business district, which includes the State Road corridor up to Cronig’s.

The decision to build what former finance committee chairman George Balco described as “the smallest, most expensive system we could make” was a mistake. It is time for Tisbury officials to muster the energy and political will to rectify it.