Wastewater System in Tisbury Places Limits on Town Growth


The day Tisbury's new wastewater system goes online next year, it will be running at its full capacity. That's right: No headroom or provision for growth has been designed into the municipal system now under construction in the Island's main port town.

This means that a homeowner will not be allowed to add a bedroom and a restaurant owner will not be allowed more tables unless such expansion would have been feasible under Title V septic regulations.

At a board of health meeting Tuesday afternoon, this presented problems for Eric Anderson and his architect, Jamie Weisman. Mr. Anderson would like to add loft space to the Wintertide building at Five Corners. He has received permission from the Martha's Vineyard Commission and the town conservation commission.

As much as the board of health might have liked to accommodate him, it simply cannot, said Jim Pringle, chairman.

"They're in between a rock and a hard place," said Mr. Pringle.

Mr. Pringle explained that many businesses along Beach Road have failed septic systems and are only operating through "the grace of the board of health." The Wintertide building, he said, is already using more water than the town has allotted.

The town wastewater committee allotted 1,000 gallons daily to the Wintertide. It currently uses 1,375 gallons. The additional loft space would require about 140 more gallons. So even if Mr. Anderson made use of the 330-gallon allotment of his beach house behind the Wintertide building, his allotment would be too small for the Wintertide building's current use, let alone the additional gallons that would be required by the loft space.

That allotment is not expected change with the advent of the sewer system. "I don't know if they will be okay," said Mr. Pringle.

The reason folks like Mr. Anderson may be stuck where they are is because the treatment plant has been designed only to handle the amount of flow that Title V regulations would allow. And existing Title V regulations were used to determine water allotments for people like Mr. Anderson.

"The town, by design, chose to limit the capacity of the plant," said Fred Lapiana, director of public works. "They did it willfully and by vote.

"I think the town is acutely apprehensive about growth in those particular areas," he said.

Joe Federico, lead engineer on the project, defended the town's decision. "What you do from a planning perspective is you take a look at the town and say what is the potential growth for this downtown section? And there's really no room for growth there," he said.

Mr. Federico pointed out that along Main street, the businesses are packed side by side and expansion is unlikely.

But the situation might be different along Beach Road.

"It's obvious that there's going to be a desire to make things happen here," Mr. Weisman, who is an advocate of regulating development, told the Gazette.

The town's decision to design the wastewater system at current capacity has its detractors.

"If I had my druthers, the treatment plant would have been half again as big so that it would accommodate future expansions or plans that people may have on their property. Other people don't want to see growth in town," said Tom Pachico, board of health agent for the town and a member of the board of selectmen.

At his hearing, Mr. Anderson also questioned the planning implications. "What do you anticipate happening in the future when people are hooked up to the sewer and they want to make changes?" he asked.

"I don't know what else we can do at the moment," concluded Ken Garde, board of health member, later in the hearing.

Mr. Anderson is not necessarily out of luck forever. It is possible that there will be additional flow available. "Once it's on line, there's probably going to be some play," said Mr. Pringle.

Mr. Federico agreed with Mr. Pringle's assessment. The treatment plant's capacity will not be clear, he said, until it is up and running. He said some excess flow is normally built in.

"In wastewater, it's plus or minus ten per cent, even if it's constructed for 100,000 gallons a day. Engineers are conservative. It can probably take 110,000 or more," he said. Tisbury's system has been designed to handle approximately 104,000 gallons daily.

Mr. Federico added that the wastewater system can be expanded.

"This isn't a plant and that's it - they have what they call sequence batch reactors. You can add another tank off to the side of it, which is just a matter of reconfiguring some of the controls. It wouldn't be that hard depending on how much flow you're talking about," he said. "It isn't a dead end."

Tisbury's new wastewater system is being constructed pursuant to a 1996 consent decree with the state that required the town to shut down its septic lagoons and install a sewer system.

Approximately 120 users will be on the system. The rest of the town will be monitored through a septage management plan that will be put into effect over the next year.

"There's a septic management plan that was part of the consent decree. It needs to be incorporated to take care of all septic systems in town that are not connected to the sewer system," said Mr. Pachico.

Virtually every septic system in town is going to be inspected.

"They are going to be inspected. Ones that are failed will have to be replaced." Mr. Pachico said. In all, some 2,200 systems will be examined.

After the initial inspections, every septic system will placed on a monitoring schedule. The initial inspections will determine how often the individual systems are examined.

"If it hasn't been pumped in five years and it doesn't need it too badly, then maybe they'll be on a five-year pumpout schedule," said Mr. Pachico.

According to Mr. Pachico, the homeowners will pay for the inspections.