Excavation work to connect a wastewater pipe to a septic system inadvertently uncovered a failed leach field at Morning Glory farm. A health official said the field may have been days away from causing minor catastrophe, but the farm’s food and produce was never jeopardized.
“I think this was all discovered before it reached [an] extreme condition,” Edgartown health agent Matt Poole said. “It wasn’t backing up into the building, but it probably wasn’t many days from backing up into the building.”
Jim Athearn, whose family owns the farm, declined to characterize the situation in such dramatic terms. He said effluent could rise underground every season and ebb afterward. It was only because the ground was opened up that anything was found. However, he also said, septic systems aren’t eternal. They have lifespans. And this one may have reached the end of its lifespan, he noted.
Poole said his biggest concern wasn’t a failing system, but the hole that provided clues to the failure. The hole, he said, was left open in the Morning Glory parking lot with only “yellow caution tape on wooden stakes” around it for 22 hours. “Just the open hole itself is a risk, and then there was effluent in the bottom of that hole,” he said. “That combination is not a good combination.” Poole described the hole as seven feet deep with blackwater draining into it.
Poole said he wasn’t informed by the contractor, Erin Fontaine, that evidence of a failed system was found, or that a hole with septage would be left open in a public area. Poole said Fontaine told him he didn’t realize it was necessary to notify the town health agent. Poole instructed him to close the hole Tuesday evening.
Fontaine could not immediately be reached for comment.
The system is designed for residential waste, and takes effluent from five bedrooms above the farm market.
“It’s not serving any of the food service,” Poole said. “It’s serving all the housing, provided the building is plumbed correctly, which I think it is, but we’re going to confirm that.”
Those bedrooms are still using the system, but Poole expects by the weekend a plan will be in place to redirect wastewater from those bedrooms to a commercial septic system elsewhere on the premises. The pipe that was going to be connected to the residential system stemmed from a bathroom and handwashing sink in a new vegetable-washing building.
Ultimately, Poole said, there will need to be a new system installed or a connection made to the town sewer.
Morning Glory received no fines or citations, and Poole doesn’t expect any to be incurred going forward, so long as the farm can adhere to an agreed-upon plan to manage the situation.