Mansion House told to stop illegal sewer use

The Mansion House has been pumping groundwater into the town's sewer system, which the town referred to as an illegal hookup. — Ralph Stewart

The Mansion House was illegally dumping groundwater from a geothermal system at the hotel into the town’s sewer system without proper permits, town documents show.

The issue was mentioned briefly and cryptically during Tuesday’s select board meeting in Tisbury. It was on the agenda as “9 Main Street inflow and infiltration update,” which is the address of the Mansion House. 

“I don’t want to spend a long time on this, because we have the letters on this, and everyone is acting cooperatively,” select board chair Jim Rogers said.

Town administrator Jay Grande, without mentioning what the issue was with the Mansion House, said, “I sent notification to the owner and to [the Department of Environmental Protection] updating the parties on what their — well the owner — on what their duties and responsibilities are, which they are already aware of, and to notify the DEP of what we’ve been doing to date to respond to the situation.”

Through a public records request, Grande sent The Times a letter he sent to Josh Goldstein, whose family owns the Mansion House, and to the DEP about the situation. Both letters are dated Nov. 13.

“On May 2020, the Wastewater Department staff observed groundwater from a geothermal system entering The Mansion House’s sewer pump chamber,” Grande wrote. “The Tisbury Wastewater Department staff notified you verbally at the time, and via email on May 29, 2020, that the non-wastewater flow must be removed from the sewer.”

Grande’s letter goes on to point out that building drain and storm drain connections are “not permitted” in the sewage collection system.

Goldstein is a member of the town’s sewer advisory board, a committee that deals with allocating wastewater for properties to the town’s treatment plant. It’s an ongoing topic of conversation among town leaders that the town doesn’t have as much capacity at the plant to satisfy town needs.

Goldstein said Friday that the situation dates back to when the hotel was rebuilt after a devastating fire. The foundation of the hotel was dug too deep, and reaches the groundwater, which prompts the need to pump 15,000 gallons of water a day.

“I had no idea,” he said. “As soon as it was found, we’ve come up with plans.”

Times archives show that Nelson Mechanical Design designed and installed the geothermal system in 2010 to help heat the hotel in the winter. The story referred to 16,000 gallons of groundwater — not the 15,000 mentioned by Goldstein — as “a nuisance to be pumped away” prior to the installation.

Goldstein could not say if the Mansion House has been paying for the additional flow. “We pay our [sewer] bills on time,” he said. “We’re one of the largest users. There are only 130 users on the system, and the system couldn’t function without us.”

He said the additional 15,000 gallons is volume that could be used by another business. “That would be good for Vineyard Haven, so we’re looking to do this as quickly as possible,” Goldstein said.

The pandemic has slowed the process. He pointed out the hotel is committed to adding a new leaching field for the groundwater discharge at great expense “at a time when we’re losing millions.”

According to a letter sent to Brian Dudley, senior chief for wastewater management for the Cape and Islands MassDEP, the Mansion House’s onsite leaching system could not handle the flow from the geothermal system. The letter indicates that the system and a sump pump at the hotel were “piped into the sewer system.”
“The Tisbury Sewer Department staff verbally notified the building owner that the groundwater connection was illegal,” Grande’s letter states. “The building owner disconnected the geothermal source, which caused local street flooding.”

Since the town pointed out the connection, Goldstein said, he’s been working to solve it. Initially, the water was redirected to a leaching field, but that caused street flooding. That flooding was not an environmental concern, Goldstein said, because it’s groundwater, not wastewater.

Mansion House was asked to re-engineer the leaching system, Grande wrote.

Despite the earlier interactions between the town and Mansion House, Grande’s letter indicates that the illegal hookup was still in operation earlier this month. “On Nov. 2, 2020, town staff and Environmental Partners engineers inspected the basement and pump chamber with the building owner, noting continued non-wastewater flows to the sewer connection,” Grande wrote.

The Nov. 13 letter gave the Mansion House 14 days to provide a final plan to permanently remove all non-wastewater flows from the sewer. “Following town review and approval of the plan, you have 30 days to complete the work and to schedule the final inspection,” Grande wrote. “The town reserves the right to levy penalties as allowed by the regulations and state law. Such penalties shall be in addition to any and all other sewer fees.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, Rogers said, “I saw the owner’s ongoing effort to mitigate the situation.”

Select board member Jeff Kristal bristled at Grande’s brief description of the situation. “It’s an update to the DEP, not a notification,” Kristal said. “It’s not like it was the first time they were told. This is an update.”

A spokesman for the DEP wrote, “Currently, we are monitoring the situation and looking to see how the Sewer Commission and/or local DPW are handling it.”

Goldstein, who had spoken earlier in the meeting about the tax classification in town, was asked if he wanted to make a comment, but declined. Asked Friday about his silence during that meeting, Goldstein said, “I wasn’t asked a question.” He called the process of identifying the problem and coming up with a solution an “open book.”

“Everyone’s working harmoniously,” Rogers said. “I’d like to see it stay that way, and get everything resolved.”