It has taken them 12 years to do it, but the Edgartown board of health is finally getting tough over a breach of health and planning regulations which threatens the health of Sengekontacket Pond.
For the first time, the board is looking to impose a substantial fine on a homeowner who twice has breached undertakings relating to the size of a house and the treatment and disposal of waste water from it.
The owners of the home on the Boulevard, Francis M. Palma and Susan Shea, are likely to wind up paying between $4,000 and $6,000, an amount the town’s health agent, Matt Poole, said yesterday showed the authorities now were serious about protecting the pond.
And while Mr. Poole conceded the penalty would likely boil down to about a dollar a day, it should serve as an indicator, he said, of how much “the whole regulatory scene has changed. The whole tone of the conversation in Sengekontacket on the shoreline, has changed.
“This has gone on for about 5,000 days. It began before I arrived and I inherited it. I admit we have not broken any speed records in pursuit of it,” he said, “but I think we are about to see an end to the matter.”
Mr. Palma could not be reached for comment.
The saga began back in August 1995, when, as Mr. Poole tells it, the owners got a permit to do some work on an old, one-bedroom cottage they had bought.
“The next anyone knew, the old house was gone and he was preparing to construct a much larger new house,” Mr. Poole said.
The Edgartown Conservation Commission issued a cease and desist order in August 1995, but work was later allowed to proceed after the owners agreed in December 2005 to the stipulations of the board of health that the house, per the plans provided to the town, would have only one bedroom.
The health board also gained assurances that the failed septic system would be regularly maintained, a new well dug, and the house would tie into a shared wastewater disposal system.
“Then he [Mr. Palma] built this gigantic shell of a house. At one point it apparently was one bedroom. But as time progressed, it was modified inside — probably shortly after the town signed off – and expanded to three bedrooms, and he proceeded to ignore his responsibilities to ensure the cesspool was not overflowing,” Mr. Poole said.
Ten years elapsed, and when Mr. Poole, an agent of the conservation commission and an engineer inspected the interior of the house, they found “three bedrooms and two full bathrooms.”
In September 2005, the owner sought a permit to upgrade the septic system, but, said Mr. Poole, the board of health was not happy.
“They discussed alternative solutions, including a motion to deny the application,” he recalled.
Instead, it was proposed the house be reduced to two bedrooms, and the owners would be required to bring in town water and a sophisticated enhanced treatment septic system.
“That was November ’05, and here we are nearly two years later,” said Mr. Poole. “I wrote them a letter this summer saying we hadn’t forgotten about them, and if they didn’t come back to us we would have to force compliance.”
And so the matter is scheduled to be considered again, and Mr. Poole hopes finally, by the board at 6 p.m. on Sept. 27 at the Edgartown town hall. The Friends of Sengekontacket group, whose members have long been angry at the breaches and the slowness of the town in taking action, are expected to send representatives.
“I can’t predict for sure what is going to happen,” said Mr. Poole, “but there has been discussion of a fine in the $4,000 to $6,000 range, as well as other conditions.
“Any decision we make will include a provision to allow the board of health to enter the dwelling with reasonable notice to confirm compliance,” he said.
“We have that [provision] in a few of our documents and I’ve never been forced to do it, but I think this is one case where I’ll have to go back and look at the house once in a while.
“I have told the Friends of Sengekontacket that the board would like their input on whether this was a reasonable solution.
“I personally think this is a reasonable way to conclude this saga,” Mr. Poole said.
How could he be sure this would be the end of the matter?
“Sitting in the room with these folks a bunch of times, I get a clear sense they want to resolve this and write the town a pretty big check. I think it will actually happen this time.”
Furthermore, he said: “This time we will turn the file over to town counsel and say, ‘This has been going on for 12 years at this point, and they have a history of failure to comply, we’ve had two agreements with them, and we could need to force compliance through the courts.’”
Mr. Poole said he believed a penalty of this nature was unprecedented. And necessary, he added, if the board of health was to “maintain some credibility.”