Hospital Is Exploring Ties to Oak Bluffs Sewer Line

Gazette Senior Writer

Leaders at the Martha's Vineyard hospital said this week that
the plan to build a new hospital also now includes an emerging plan to
tie into the Oak Bluffs sewage treatment plant.

"We have begun talks with the town of Oak Bluffs, and we know
that nothing would be better than getting everything out of here,"
said hospital board vice chairman Tim Sweet yesterday.

The hospital is currently served by an on-site sewage treatment
plant. Hospital trustees are now hip-deep in an ambitious capital
project aimed at replacing the leaky, sprawling circa 1972 hospital with
a brand new state-of-the-art building. There is no clear timeline yet
and the price tag for the project keeps changing; at last count
estimates were close to $50 million.

Last fall as the hospital began to host a series of forums on the
new building project, the Oak Bluffs conservation commission took up the
topic at its regular meeting one night.

The result was an Oct. 1 letter to hospital board chairman John
Ferguson, urging the hospital to take into account its own surroundings.

"The hospital site is surrounded by a variety of natural
resources, some of which are not in good health. These fragile resources
include salt marshes, beaches, dunes, vegetated wetlands, Brush Pond,
Lagoon Pond and Vineyard Haven Harbor," wrote conservation
commission chairman Joan Hughes.

"While you are still in the planning stages of the new
facility the commission encourages you to consider designing a septic
treatment facility that includes two critical components: 1) a nitrogen
reduction system, and 2) the capacity for neighboring property owners to
tie into it," Mrs. Hughes wrote.

There was no formal reply to the letter, although Mr. Sweet said
this week that he did later call the conservation commission later to
respond verbally.

"As we began to think about this we realized it would be
better for everyone, not just the hospital but for the town and the
houses beyond us," he said.

A number of houses along the Beach Road have raised concrete
leaching fields.

"Here is the perfect opportunity for a community
partnership," Mrs. Hughes wrote in the letter to Mr. Ferguson.
"A brand new, state-of-the-art hospital in an environmentally
sensitive location will, with the right septic design and capacity, be a
model of smart growth."

Environmental issues have surfaced more than once during public
forums on the plan for a new hospital. There have been many questions
- will the building be green, will it be energy efficient, will
the project be environmentally responsible.

At the outset the architect for the project said there were no site
problems for the new building, despite the fact that the entire area
where the hospital is located is surrounded by a wetland. Mr. Sweet said
later that the architect was wrong and that in fact there are some
problems that must be addressed. Chief among them is the issue of sewage

The hospital building project will eventually require approval from
the Martha's Vineyard Commission and also the town conservation
commission. Among the steps along the way in the development of plans is
another public forum, tentatively scheduled for next month.

Nitrogen pollution in the Lagoon Pond has been a growing topic of
concern in recent years, and studies now show that the pond is at its
limit for nitrogen loading.

"We've given this a great deal of thought, and we have
begun some talks with the town of Oak Bluffs," Mr. Sweet said.
"The key question was whether there would be enough capacity and
apparently there is," he added. Mr. Sweet said the hospital would
including neighboring houses in the hookup plan.

"It's one of those things that seems so logical,"
Mr. Sweet said.

The concept is good and green but it could also be expensive. Mr.
Sweet said early estimates show that it could cost $1 million to
accomplish the tie-in, which would require some kind of force main to
run from the hospital up County Road. The closest junction for the
treatment plant is near the fire station.

The treatment plant went on-line two years ago. It serves most of
downtown Oak Bluffs, the Camp Ground and most of the Copeland District,
a residential area with historic Victorian architecture.

In her letter last fall Mrs. Hughes urged hospital leaders to do the
right thing. "By improving the declining water quality in the
ponds it will help protect our shellfish and tourist industries. And by
doing so - by helping to protect the Island's natural
resources and economic stability - the hospital will be more than
an in-house health care facility, it will be actively enhancing the
health and well being of the Island community as a whole, on a daily
basis," she wrote.