Oak Bluffs broke ground Thursday on a new wastewater treatment facility aimed at cutting down the amount of nitrogen flowing into nearby Lagoon Pond. 

At a ceremony at the site of the planned new facility on Pennsylvania avenue, a small crowd gathered to celebrate the $26 million project that was approved by voters two years ago.

Gail Barmakian, a select board member and the chairman of the wastewater commission, spoke to attendees outside of the treatment plant before putting a ceremonial shovel to the dirt.

From left to right: Gail Barmakian, Patrick Hickey, Hans von Steiger, William Alwardt, Cassandra Bowler, Deb Potter. — Ray Ewing

“This $26 million project is a milestone to cleaning up our ponds,” she said. 

Declining water quality has been a major issue facing the Vineyard in recent years and once the facility is upgraded, it will be able to serve more buildings and remove more nitrogen that could otherwise end up polluting Lagoon Pond and nearby estuaries. 

Ms. Barmakian honored people involved in getting the project started, including Hans von Steiger, a former wastewater commission chair who was present at the groundbreaking.

“I’m so pleased to be here today to see this expansion,” he told the Gazette. “They did a great job, as frustrating as it was.” 

The town first approved the $26 million upgrade in 2022 at that year’s town meeting. The money, which has to be reapproved at a special town meeting this June due to a timing defect, will mostly go towards replacing the existing facilities.

Oak Bluffs residents approved an additional $1.6 million for the project at the town meeting in April to account for inflation and to help protect expensive equipment in the plant.

“I also want to thank the Oak Bluffs community for supporting this project,” Ms. Barmakian said.

Actual construction had already started and officials expect the new facility to be completed 2026. 

The groundwork for a flow distribution box— which keeps the flow of water into treatment tanks steady, and thus easier to treat— has already been laid. According to Patrick Hickey, the facilities manager, concrete will begin to be poured Tuesday morning.

“It’s great to see it finally happening,” Mr. Hickey said, “This is one of many steps. There will be many milestones.”