Sewer issue requires transparency

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To the Editor:

I read with interest the report of illegal groundwater flow by the Mansion House into the town’s wastewater treatment plant, as well as the Letter to the Editor from the owners. The issue was raised at the May 20 meeting of the sewer advisory committee, of which I am a member. Prior to that meeting, the sewer advisory committee was unaware of the situation, and there appears to be no record at the DPW or board of health of anything to do with the Mansion House groundwater being hooked up to the sewer. 

The committee deferred to the select board, who are the town’s sewer commissioners, and the town administrator to develop a solution as soon as feasible, because the inflow was believed to be illegal per DEP. The issue was briefly raised at our next monthly meeting on June 24, the day after town elections, but you won’t find confirmation of that in the minutes, because the Zoom meeting video was erased before minutes could be written. After the June meeting, the select board chose not to call another sewer advisory meeting until Oct. 14. At that meeting, the select board representative pressed the committee to grant additional sewer flow for a development proposal at Santander Bank that didn’t comply with zoning bylaws, and informed the committee of some of the initiatives he had been pursuing with town engineers. No mention of the Mansion House was made at the meeting.

There having been no public acknowledgement or formal action taken by the select board in five months, I took the initiative to confirm independently from two sources that the groundwater discharge continued, that it was neither being metered nor billed for, and could amount to as much as 16,000 gallons a day. If billed as wastewater, by my estimate using other sewer bills, it would amount to over $18,000 a month. In early November, I contacted the DEP to see what the legal ramifications might be. It was the first they had heard about it, and they said they would get back to me. It seems they have provoked the select board to take action at last. Curiously, the board has never mentioned the Mansion House by name. It’s an act of discretion that another Tisbury business was apparently not entitled to at multiple select board meetings this summer; that smacks of cronyism and a lack of transparency.

The Mansion House is the anchor of downtown Vineyard Haven, and I don’t think anyone, myself included, would like to see it close or be less than successful. That being said, the groundwater discharge is a serious issue that won’t go away, even if you lock the doors and turn off the water. It should have been dealt with in an open, transparent manner, not behind closed doors and in private conversations. I would like to think that the relevant boards and committees in our town could have worked together with the owner(s) to find an equitable solution in a more expeditious manner.

To clarify one point in the article, this groundwater flow, some 15,000 to 16,000 gallons per day, is not part of the total allotment of flow in the system (104,000 gallons per day). That flow, according to the most recent audit by our engineers, has been virtually wholly committed to others on the system, even though many are not currently maximizing their allotted use. It is unanticipated extra inflow from outside the collection system, and, therefore, cannot be “reallocated” to another user while honoring the committed allocations and betterment payments by other users. Billing is based on the user’s water bill, which is metered and read by the water company. Groundwater does not travel through the water meter.

It is clear to all of us that there is increased pressure for solutions to wastewater in Tisbury in order to address growth needs for commercial, affordable housing and environmental concerns. The town is embarking on its Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan at this time. This should be a very public process, with participation by as many stakeholders as possible, as this plan is put together. We are also encouraged by the promising results emerging from a new onsite septic system that can play an important role in addressing these pressures at a more affordable cost than building another sewer plant.

 

John Best

Tisbury

Best is a member of the sewer advisory committee.  –Ed.