A subcommittee of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission on Wednesday launched an ambitious plan to create an Islandwide wastewater management study, which among other things is expected to call for a more regional approach to sewage treatment and the reduction of nitrogen loading into coastal ponds.
The Water Resource Work Group — a subset of the Island Plan, an initiative of the commission — hosted an informational meeting at the Olde Stone Building in Oak Bluffs that was attended by wastewater and conservation officials from all six towns.
Several members of the commission and elected officials from across the Island also attended.
The forum was hosted by Bill Wilcox, water resources planner for the commission, and Michael D. Gigget, senior vice president of the Wright-Pierce environmental engineering firm, which was hired to draft the wastewater management study. The study will be paid for through a variety of grants already received by the commission amounting to $32,000.
The purpose of the study is to identify and evaluate ways to address state requirements for on-site septic waste disposal, as well as reductions in nitrogen-loading expected in the wake of the Massachusetts Estuaries Project study. The study will explore different management structures, different ways to reduce nitrogen loading in the groundwater and various wastewater disposal techniques.
The study is also intended to serve as an interim stage in the move toward a comprehensive wastewater management plan for the Vineyard.
And although the regional approach is often difficult on the Vineyard, Mr. Gigget said the key to a successful Islandwide wastewater management program will be towns working together for the greater good. He said high nitrogen levels in coastal ponds are an Islandwide problem, and he noted that more than two-thirds of all Islanders live in watersheds that drain into coastal ponds.
And he said there are exponential benefits to sharing resources. Although different areas of the Island have different systems and rules for wastewater management based on town boundaries, he noted that the various coastal ponds and watersheds across the Island do not share those boundaries.
“I understand it is difficult to get different towns harmonized and synchronized. I know in some areas there are differences of opinions that run along town boundaries. But one basic rule is that the larger the approach to treatment — whether that be a treatment plant or an inter-municipal agreement — results in better performance,” he said.
He also said he realizes it doesn’t make financial sense for up-Island towns to buy into a regional treatment plant.
“There just isn’t the density in these towns to justify centralized treatment,” he said.
Chilmark selectman Warren Doty readily agreed.
“If your point of view is that a centralized treatment center is the best idea [for the whole Island], I’m here to say that’s just not practical. That’s not going to work for the up-Island towns . . . it’s just going to cost too much,” he said.
Mr. Gigget said the water work group would consider a range of ideas and not focus solely on a central system. Other ideas discussed included separating estuary protection issues from those that deal more with Title V, the state sanitary code that limits the number of bedrooms in a home based on lot size.