Pollution from new development should be weighed


To the Editor:
The Edgartown Wastewater Treatment Facility (EWWTF) and its willing accomplices are slowly killing the Edgartown Great Pond (EGP).

Since 2005 when the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group published the “Blue Book,” it was understood that we should practice to try and develop a watershed approach to protecting our salt ponds and coastal embayments, as well as educating the public that “watersheds are the pathways to our ponds.”

History shows we have not been doing a very good job of using the watershed approach to protect the EGP. A majority of the Edgartown wastewater commissioners, along with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, either don’t believe in a watershed approach, or choose to ignore it. Why else would they have allowed the Field Club Development in Edgartown in 2008 to import that development’s sewerage into the watershed of the EGP via the EWWTF?

The entire Island’s septage now goes to the EWWTF. The contaminants that can be removed through tertiary treatment end up in the plant sludge, the rest enters the plume dumping its contents into the EGP.

The M.V. Commision now has before them the Meeting House Place subdivision plan. Although this development is in the watershed of the EGP, it is new flow being created to enter the pond via the EWWTF. Why would we allow the remaining capacity in the Edgartown facility to be used to sewer The Meeting House Place subdivision when we could sewer existing homes and failed systems that now exist, so that their current flow into the pond could be reduced from 40 to 50 mg/L down to 3 to 5 mg/L?

This, of course, makes the most sense, but it appears that the Edgartown wastewater commissioners and some, but not all, of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission are making some sort of deal with the developers of Meeting House Place, which gains them access to the remaining plant capacity ahead of Edgartown taxpayers.

In addition to subdivision and septage from the entire Island, our sole-source aquifer should be reason enough to pause, and scale back this project. Thirty-eight new homes all dipping their straws into the aquifer, not just for domestic water, but for irrigation. Guess what? There is not an endless supply of water in the aquifer. Life here will get very complicated when the aquifer becomes depleted.

We are fouling our nest, and by allowing these developments to be sewered, encouraging further development. Look at what has happened in just the past 20 years to our once quaint Edgartown whaling village. They have torn down historic structures, and built lot line to lot line, because sewering made it possible. The MV Commission should be sending the message to town officials, politicians, developers, and property owners that it is not all for sale to the highest bidder. The current, relatively pristine, environment needs to be protected from overdevelopment. We are all watching.


Jay A. Guest



  1. That’s fine, but how can we hold or deny one development on pollution when nothing is being done about Island Grove and all of the homes there that have been given 10 years to hook up to the sewer that haven’t. Will that requirement ever be enforced…or do the people that did switch over pay a lot of money to move from working septic systems to now also get an annual bill?

  2. Thanks for pointing out that the Edgartown wastewater plant accepts pumpout septage from all of the other towns who do not contribute a dime to the plant infrastructure while simply paying the same per gallon fee as Edgartown residents. Rather than increase plant capacity, we should no longer accept the year round flow of concentrated septage from these other towns, and use the reduced capacity to accept the island grove homes as @wahabhored pointed out. Subsituting the proposed Meeting house way development of lightly used seasonal homes vs acceptance of year round concentrated septage from other freeloading towns would accomplish your point of reducing the plume.

    • Less than 5% of total flow comes from septage. The revenue generated covers the entire operating cost of the plant. It is a cash cow.

  3. I don’t know anything about nitrogen levels… so, in Jay I trust. His judgment. My common senses kick in when I drive by the sewer plant during a heatwave…

  4. As a Grade 6 wastewater operator who previously worked in Edgartown for over a year, I’d love to set things straight. I knew it would be Jay who wrote this before I even finished reading the article, because he constantly call in with odor complaints, many of which are unwarranted, because he chose to live directly behind the sewer plant.

    Wastewater Treatment Facilities clean the water better than septic systems. A typical septic system effluent has a concentration of ammonia and nitrate of around 35 mg/L each. On most days, the effluent of EWWTF is less than 1 for either, and VERY rarely does it go over 2 mg/L.

    One thing I will agree with Jay on is the selection of who goes on sewer and who doesn’t. Year round homes, who produce more flow, should be given priority. In a perfect world, everyone would be on sewer. However, sometimes it is not practical cost wise, because they would have to have to run miles of new sewer lines to reach the nearest lift station, then increase the capacity of that lift station, or install additional lift stations. Another thing to consider is the way Edgartown bills for sewer is not by the water used, but around $74 per drain. So the mansion with 10 bathrooms that gets used 2 months out of the year subsidizes the year round home with 2 bathrooms.

    Receiving septage from other town does NOT negatively effect the effluent of EWWTF. The solution to pollution is dilution. Septage received is put into a holding tank and gradually mixed into the influent of the plant. If it is metered at 5% of flow it makes virtually no impact on the system. Total annual septage flow is around 2-3% of total annual flow. Receiving septage covers the operating cost of the plant for the year, around 1.5 million.

    Feel free to ask me anything. Btw, commissioner meetings are held every month and are open to the public.

  5. Forgot to add, you need to pump out the sludge in a septic system because not all of it will break down, and will clog the leeching field and fail the system. Edgartown is also the only town equipped to receive septage.

    • Also, there was once a time when Edgartown residents received a discount for septage, but that created an incentive for haulers to lie about what town it came from for a discount. The number of pump outs coming from Edgartown increased dramatically, while pump outs from other town declined.

      • Haulers used to lie ‘in the old days’ when the operators at the plant allowed them to use the honor system and there was sloppy record keeping by the plant operators at that time. That has been rectified. Before an edgartown homeowner pumps a septic a permit is obtained so the town can make a buck, but more importantly keep track of failed systems. The other towns did not contribute a DIME to the construction of the plant. Edgartown residents should get a discount for pump outs…and ill take it a step further.. a discount for discretionary ‘maintenance pumpouts’ which would prevent future failures. There is zero benefit to Edgartown taxpayers to allow other towns to dump their waste in our plant and contribute to the nitrogen loading of our pond and aquifer. The plant capacity should be used for those paying property taxes in Edgartown, not be used against a developer in favor of non-tax paying other towns.

  6. Notnewhere: As someone who once worked at that plant, recieving septage from other towns is a GOLDMINE. Do you think they dump for free? In 2017, recieving septage generated a revenue of over 1.5 million. That more than covered the cost of operating the plant. The plant makes a profit from recieving septage, and it goes back to the town.

    Also, recieving septage does not increase nitrogen loading in a meaningful way. At EWWTF, septage only accounts for 2-3% of the annual flow. The plant treats the water through NITRIFICATION, and then DEFNITRIFICATION. At the end, nitrogen leaves the system by being released as gas.

    Also, there is only ONE AQUIFER on the island, so it all goes to the same place eventually regardless of what town it is dumped at.

    As far as Edgartown discounts go, once there is a discount, haulers will lie again to make more money. Haulers make a photo copy of the permit, then it goes in a folder never to be looked at again. It would be very eary to forge a permit.

    But what do I know? I only worked in Edgartown in that very septage recieving room. I’m only a Grade 6 Wastewater Operator.

    • @ facts first… so you worked there with the ‘loose’ accounting that allowed the town to get screwed by the dishonest septage haulers? There is no reason non-edgartown taxpayers should pay the same per gallon rate as Edgartown taxpayers. None.

      • Facts First – You state you were not around back in the so-called loose accounting days and then proclaim what happened then was that operators were taking bribes. Your ignorance of the facts is stunning.

        You also state that you know how the system works now but do you know how that issue was resolved? clearly you don’t. It was the very licensed operators you state were taking bribes that researched, went to town meeting to get the funds, and implemented the new system to correct a situation that had gone on for more years than anyone has ever been employed by the town at the plant. I know all these FACTS, first hand, because I was there the entire time, did the research and implemented the better system.

        You are right that the amount of septage received contributes little to the total nitrogen entering the watershed but that is only because the plant can reduce the high strength septage to an acceptable nitrogen limit.

        Edgartown residents always received a lower rate than other towns as it should be and can happen again. The only thing that needs to change is how residents have their systems pumped. The town should create a database of systems showing the quantities of each. The home owner calls the town and informs them that they’re going to get it pumped. By doing this the town will be able to use the existing metering system to ensure the haulers are only discharging the known volume of septage which originated at the Edgartown Residence.

        You also state that the town isn’t receiving that much money implying it’s the haulers who set the bulk of the rate. Well to that I say FIX it. The town should put the servicing of Edgartown septic systems out to bid, this way the haulers will have to compete against each other to get the business instead of colluding together to set the rate and get the most they can.

        I know, this will take a little effort to develop and implement but isn’t that what the residents of Edgartown deserve since their the ones paying the salaries and benefits of the employees

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