Tisbury officials approve wastewater plan

Plan of study will consist of information gathering, alternatives analysis, and cost calculations.

The Tisbury select board is moving ahead with a plan of study for their Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan. — Rich Saltzberg

The Tisbury select board approved the plan of study for the town’s Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan (CWMP) during a meeting Tuesday.

The plan of study broadly lays out the scope of work for the significant undertaking, including a timeline and a step-by-step process list, and also takes into account the status of the past 20 years or more, and current status, of wastewater management in Tisbury.

For the committee tasked with design and implementation of the CWMP, along with the town and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, the plan will serve as the jumping-off point for the next three years of work.

Over the past several months, the plan of study was developed by Mark White of the Environmental Partners Group, in concert with the water resources committee and the Department of Environmental Protection.

According to White, his goal with the CWMP is to develop a broad and systematic approach to dealing with wastewater in the town overall.

Initially, a needs analysis will take place, where information regarding town water quality, such as stormwater flows, groundwater, and surface water ponds is gathered. The needs analysis also catalogues studies done in Tisbury over the past two decades, looking at things like onsite septic system records, failure rates of certain systems, and soil conditions.

White said all this information then gets translated into a GIS mapping system so it can be clearly conveyed to town officials and members of the public.

The second part of the needs analysis is to forecast what future wastewater needs might be. “That is going to be an important exercise, and one that is going to be running parallel with the planning board undertaking their own master plan,” White said.

He said the CWMP committee and the sewer advisory board will be working closely with the MVC and the planning board to look at build-out analysis and future growth objectives.

After the projected needs of the town are considered, the analysis will come back to the select board and the townspeople for review. “That discussion will create the basis for how we look at alternative solutions to these issues,” White noted.

The next step in the plan of study is the alternatives analysis, which goes beyond conventional sewering and onsite systems to look at the ability of individual properties to manage their own wastewater with conventional systems, and other innovative strategies, like permeable reactive barriers and approaches to shellfish management. 

In addition, the alternatives analysis identifies areas and properties where onsite systems cannot be supported, and where it would make sense to invest in community-based collection and treatment systems. 

Matrices that profile each alternative will also be developed, which will use criteria to look at elements like fiscal reasonability, constructability, regulatory implications, and property ownership issues. “The whole thing is boiled down into those that are truly viable alternatives,” White explained.

After a comprehensive review of the alternatives, a cost analysis will separate capital expenditures from potential costs to town residents.

“That all culminates in meetings with the public, and looking to gain consensus from the town on what the preferred alternative is,” White said, adding that the public outreach component during this phase is critical to the success of the project.

Once there is a comprehensive plan selected by the town, the fourth and final phase is the permitting process with the DEP and with the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) office — as the plan and project will involve an environmental impact report.

White noted that no regulatory approvals are needed until the town identifies what its preferred plan is.

According to White, the first phase of the needs analysis should wrap up by the end of this year, and the alternatives analysis will be complete in 2022. 

The comprehensive alternatives analysis will take place later on in 2022 and into 2023, then will go to the town for review in late 2023 and into 2024.

“Those timelines can be faster or slower, all depending on how the public debate occurs,” White said.

The select board unanimously approved the plan of study, which will now be submitted to the DEP. Town officials will reconvene with White and the CWMP committee in October for an update.

Nancy Gilfoy of the Tisbury finance committee mentioned the intermunicipal agreements the town has with West Tisbury and Oak Bluffs for the Tashmoo and Lagoon Pond watersheds.

White said DEP intends to issue a watershed-based permit, so as officials look at those watersheds, which both have total maximum daily limits (TMDLs) associated with them, additional flow contributions need to be considered.

“The intent is for there to be an intermunicipal agreement crafted between those communities that recognizes what the level of responsibility is for achieving those TMDLs,” White said, although finalizing an agreement will not be a condition for the town to proceed with its CWMP.

Oak Bluffs is currently engaged in its own CWMP planning process, and is just now wrapping up the first phase of its needs analysis, according to White. Tisbury planning board member Ben Robinson said that to his knowledge, West Tisbury is working with the other two up-Island towns on a wastewater plan through the MVC.

Flow change 

The Tisbury select board also approved with conditions two change-of-use requests for adjusted wastewater flow, at 75 Main St. and 4 State Road.

According to Bob Rafferty of Environmental Partners Group, the property at 75 Main St., known as the former Santander Bank property, is being developed by Sam Dunn.

Dunn requested an increase in flow to 1,400 gallons per day, although Rafferty said his organization calculated a need of 1,176 gallons.

Rafferty explained that there is an issue of timing with the application in relation to the timeline that the development project is on with other permitting authorities, like the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

“The sewer advisory board finds itself in a situation where they’re kind of caught between not being able to formally recommend approval, but the applicant needing some assurance of the availability of flow to get other permits,” Rafferty explained.

He said there is capacity for the 1,176-gallon-per-day flow, but wastewater superintendent Jared Meader added that there are other conditions that the wastewater department wants to see as part of the application, including details on a grease trap, the onsite sewer system, and new grinder pump chambers.

Additionally, Xerxes Agassi is looking to develop the property at 4 State Road (formerly EduComp), and is looking for a change-of-use flow adjustment of 1,926 gallons per day.

Both developers are looking for a combined flow change of 3,102 gallons per day, and Rafferty said the wastewater department has set aside 3,500 gallons per day for new flow in the sewer district as a “conservative amount.”

Select board chair Jeff Kristal noted that Dunn and Agassi will still have to get their developments approved by the appropriate regulatory bodies in order to keep the flows allocated by the town.

“This is basically a letter that will go to Sam that says there is available flow, but Sam and Xerxes still have hoops to jump through to see if they keep the flow and can move forward with their project,” Kristal said.

Conditions for the 75 Main St. development, according to Meader, include specifications for a grease trap, along with a 90-day sunset clause which would allow the town to pull the flow back into the wastewater reserves if Dunn hasn’t made progress on his permitting requirements at that time. Past the 90-day mark, Dunn would be required to return to Meader for monthly updates.

Meader suggested a year maximum for Dunn to receive the proper permitting.

For Agassi and the 4 State Road property, a 120-day sunset clause condition was placed on the approval of the 1,926 gallons, as Agassi still has to undergo an extensive review with the planning board and still needs permitting from the MVC. After the 120 days, he must return to Meader for a review.


  1. Remember the long time water works employee that reported an issue at the mansion house and was terminated for doing his job due to bad politics in tisbury.
    You remember that Kristal????

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