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The Vineyard Gazette - Martha's Vineyard News - Energy And Water Development Corp

The Vineyard Gazette – Martha’s Vineyard News


As Oak Bluffs continues to see rapid growth, the town’s aging wastewater treatment plant received a lifeline Tuesday, with voters throwing their support behind a ballot measure that allows the town to raise taxes in order to pay for a $26 million upgrade to the facility.

A project championed by town officials and wastewater workers, the upgrade will increase the plant’s capacity and introduce technology to better clean water processed at the facility.

“I am absolutely elated,” Oak Bluffs select board member Gail Barmakian, who is also a town wastewater commissioner, told the Gazette after the election. “This project is really good for the town.”

Voters Tuesday approved the question 1,444-653, reiterating support for the project approved on the town meeting floor in April. Then, voters allowed the town to raise up to $26 million for the project. The decision at the polls this week allows the town to raise taxes to pay back any funds borrowed for the upgrade.

“The ballot vote really was the taxpayers saying, ‘yeah, we can raise taxes to pay for this,’” Ms. Barmakian said.

Originally built to serve the densest downtown areas around the Camp Ground and near the harbor, the sewer system was later expanded to include the hospital, high school, Woodside Village, and the ice arena. The treatment facility is located on Pennsylvania avenue with leach fields beneath Ocean Park. Approximately 700 properties are served by the system, according to the town website.

But with its infrastructure now 20 years old, parts of the plant have failed in recent years, forcing the use of backup systems. Wastewater facility manager Patrick Hickey said the town was lucky enough for the failures to occur during the off season, when the plant sees less use.

“We’ve seen failures the past couple years,” Mr. Hickey told the Gazette. “This is almost a light at the end of the tunnel,” he added, speaking about the planned upgrade.

While the town plans to borrow to pay for the upgrade, Ms. Barmakian said Oak Bluffs will pursue grant and reimbursement funds for the project. Support at the polls, she said, bolsters town applications for those programs, such as the state revolving fund.

“All of that money, I believe, is reimbursement,” Ms. Barmakian said. “You sort of have to spend it first.”

She said the town could be reimbursed for up to 39 per cent of the project cost under the state revolving fund, and qualify for a nearly zero-interest loan.

Mr. Hickey said the upgrade will equip the facility to more effectively reduce nitrogen, improving the quality of water processed by the plant and bringing the town in line with changing state environmental standards.

“The state is really starting to ask towns … to take care of nitrogen-sensitive watersheds,” he said. He added that the upgrade will put the plant on par with other new wastewater facilities in the region.

Additionally, the environmental initiatives provide opportunities for further state funding focused on eco-friendly wastewater management.

“It is an environmentally-based plan, which is something the state is requiring for all the funding we’re going to apply for,” Ms. Barmakian said.

With construction slated to begin before next fall, the project will also open up capacity for future expansion of wastewater hookups — which are planned as part of a decades-long comprehensive wastewater management plan created by the town. Those expansions, Mr. Hickey said, remain years down the line.

Although officials could not say exactly how large the plant capacity increase would be, they said it would be enough to bring additional areas of Oak Bluffs onto town sewer.

“First we have to build the facility before we build the extensions,” he said.

The project engineer is GHD Group, a technical professional services firm.

Within the broader wastewater management plan, the town plans to introduce non-sewering solutions, like permeable reactive barriers and other nitrogen mitigation measures, to areas that will not be sewered. It remains unclear exactly which areas of Oak Bluffs will be prioritized when the sewer system expands — but a state environmental study is underway, focused on identifying priority areas for nitrogen reduction.

Ms. Barmakian and Mr. Hickey said the wastewater plant upgrade is a crucial first step in the comprehensive wastewater management plan, anticipated to cost $136 million over 30 years.

“It’s sequential — it’s sort of in two and three parts,” Ms. Barmakian said. “But the first step is to increase capacity of the plant.”

More immediately, the upgrade will ensure smoother operation at the facility, and improve water quality. Mr. Hickey said those simple changes are cause enough for celebration.

“At the end of the day, I just want to make dirty water clean,” he said.





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