Dukes County awards $1.4 million for septic upgrades

Studies have found increased levels of nitrogen pollution at Lake Tashmoo in Tisbury over the last decade; mainly due to local septic systems. — MV Times

Dukes County commissioners approved an allocation of $1.44 million for Island towns to mitigate nitrogen loading. The funds will be dedicated toward upgrading septic systems with denitrifying systems. 

Each town will be awarded a portion of the funds, which will be used to subsidize costs of upgrading nitrogen-mitigating systems and/or reimburse homeowners who have already installed them.

“This is going to have a direct impact on nitrogen loading and health of all of our Island ponds, water quality, and beaches,” commissioner Peter Wharton said during Wednesday’s meeting.

County commissioners have been working on the management and distribution of more than $3 million allotted to the county through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in 2021. The federal funds distributed through ARPA offer relief to eligible local and state organizations in order to assist communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The commission, which has the authority to distribute said funds, has been working for nearly two years on the management process.

Tasked with deciding the most impactful and helpful allotment of the funds, the commission had narrowed down specific recipients and initiatives so the roughly $3 million could go as far as it can. To ensure this, a working group made up of commissioners developed criteria for applications for the awards. 

The Martha’s Vineyard Airport and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission have both been awarded portions of the funds for wastewater management projects previously.

Through talks with the attorney general’s office, inspector general’s office, DCC counsel, and other Island entities, the county was able to finalize its remaining distributions. 

Wharton noted that the grant program anticipates the ability to not only make reimbursements for funds that are already expended by homeowners, but to actually “pre-award” and “pre-fund” individual homeowners’ septic upgrade and installation. 

“That’s a real hard impact, and real benefit that the county is bringing to homeowners on this Island,” he said. “I’m excited … This is huge.”

Commissioner Don Leopold agreed: “As a county commissioner, this is the most exciting thing we’ve done,” he said, as the finalization of ARPA distribution plan “substantively adds value to the Island by working in partnership with other [entities].”

However, he noted, “This won’t mean anything if we don’t execute it.” 

Last week, Tisbury officials discussed the town’s preliminary wastewater management plan, which is estimated to reduce nitrogen loads by more than 4,000 kilograms per year. The core of that program involved upgrading existing septic systems. Upgrading those systems can cost as much as $50,000.