The unspoken problems at the beach


To the Editor:

The following letter was sent to Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty. 

Please forward this email to Art Smadbeck, as the Edgartown selectman on the Dukes County Advisory Board, and to the two other select persons, Margaret Serpa and Michael Donaroma.

The purpose of this email is to alert you all to the dangerous situation that exists on County Beach, between the Bend in the Road and Little Bridge. It’s dangerous to the health and safety of beach users and the environment in Sengekontacket Pond and the Atlantic Ocean.

By my count last summer, 500-plus cars are parked each day in summer on that stretch of county highway, which translates, conservatively, to more than 1,000 people using the beach daily without the availability of any nearby bathrooms, causing men, women, and children to urinate into the ocean and defecate where they can, which is often in the dunes along Sengekontacket Pond. I observed this 20 years ago, wrote letters to the editors of the Gazette and The MV Times, and was relieved when Edgartown put porta-johns at Katama, a state beach, but horrified when no porta-johns were put on Sylvia Beach in Edgartown or Oak Bluffs.

The logical place for porta-johns is at Bend in the Road, Big Bridge, and Little Bridge — the number to be decided in each spot. The selling of food at Little Bridge adds to the problem. Food selling, especially liquids, is necessary for people spending all day at the beach, but when people eat, if their alimentary systems work properly, the urge to defecate follows. There is no provision at Sylvia Beach to allow beachgoers to relieve themselves. The result is very damaging to people and the environment.

My hope is that the Dukes County Advisory Board will take up this issue. I have spoken with Tristan Israel, chairman of the Dukes County commissioners, and he is in agreement with me that porta-johns are needed in the aforesaid areas. I plan to contact the Friends of Sengekontacket to get their thoughts on the issue. If necessary, I will also speak with the parks department, conservation commission, and board of health in both Edgartown and Oak Bluffs to see if some positive movement can be made in the direction Edgartown has already taken at South Beach/Katama.

Norma Norton Holmes


  1. Nobody is taking a hike to a porta potty to take a pee. Nobody. The ocean has been a toilet and will continue to be a toilet until forever.

  2. When it comes to urine and fecal matter at beaches humans are small contributors.
    Seals and sharks do what they can.

  3. Beachgoer’s contributions to any pollution are unmeasureable. If you want to take on this issue focus on the real culprits: inadequate septic systems, runoff from the roads, farming, etc. Read any water quality study to see what the conclusions are based on the science.

  4. Did you know the Town of Edgartown wastewater plant is closed? There are a long list of septic tank pump outs waiting. I have been told it might take until Sept. for it to open. Im surprised any of the porta johns are being dumped and you speak of more. We havent opened our services yet people. I think going to a beach right now is at your own risk.

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