Federal EPA Declares Harwich Marine Waters A No Discharge Zone

Town has only Massachusetts no discharge area granted in the last two years (8/27/98 The Chronicle)
It's official: Harwich has a no discharge zone in place prohibiting boaters from pumping sewage into local waters. That designation was formalized in a ceremony here on Wednesday. New England EPA Deputy Administrator Mindy Lubber and MCZM Director Peg Brady make the presentation to Selectman Peter Luddy and Natural Resources Officer Thomas Leach at Saquatucket Harbor. Click picture to read paper editorial. Photo by William F. Galvin

by William F. Galvin HARWICH --- It was a day to celebrate hope for a brighter future in the shellfishing industry and to praise local officials for a yeoman's effort in winning a federal no discharge designation along the shoreline of Nantucket Sound. Federal and state officials joined on Wednesday with town representatives on the occasion of the designation, administered by Mindy Lubber, New England Deputy Administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

"This provides a complete ban from discharging from boats along the entire coast of Harwich, whether effluent is treated or not," explained Lubber during the designation ceremony. Harwich is the seventh town in the commonwealth to be designated a no discharge zone, which now prohibits boaters from discharging sewerage inside the harbors and along Nantucket Sound within 400 feet of the shoreline.

Both Lubber and Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management Director Peg Brady stressed the importance of this designation in protecting shellfish grounds, many of which have been closed on a seasonal and some on a year-round basis. Lubber stressed the economic importance of having clean marine waters adjacent to Cape Cod, pointing out the beaches are the major attraction of tourists who spend $500 million annually on this peninsula. Natural Resources Officer Thomas Leach pointed out many of the harbors, containing shellfish beds, are closed on a seasonal basis, Wychmere, and Allen Harbor and Herring River among them while Saquatucket Harbor is permanently closed because of the high bacteria counts. For years town officials have cited the discharge of effluent from vessels as a contributing factor to these closures.

Lubber said the recent closure of 40 acres on the Cape has impacted 600 "diggers" with an estimated lose in revenues of $40,000 to a $3.4 million industry in Massachusetts. There are few success stories relating to coastal resources, but shellfishing will be impacted positively from this declaration, stated Lubber. "You can't underestimate what it took to make Harwich a no discharge zone," stressed Lubber. "The work was enormous and Tom (Leach) played an unbelievable leadership role." Brady concurred with that assessment, praising the commitment of the Board of Selectmen for moving forward with this program and for the efforts of Leach in putting the mechanisms in place to allow it to happen. The MCZM director explained many coastal communities have been unwilling to purse this designation because of the long term commitment it requires.

While many municipalities did not take advantage of grants to fund pumpout boats and landside facilities, She pointed out Harwich, which has two pumpout boats, took full advantage. Leach said dockside pumpout facilities are available in Saquatucket, Wychmere and Allen Harbor and the pumpout boats can be scheduled for use by boaters throughout the town. The sewage is then taken to a landside treatment plant and processed, instead of being pumped into local waters. "I'm an avid sailor myself and have plied these waters," stated Brady. Boaters don't want to be in this type of situation," where they are forced to pumpout tanks into the marine environment. She praised the town for not only providing the facilities but for informing boaters of the facilities on the harbormaster's web page.

The seven Massachusetts towns with designations in place include Chatham, Wellfleet, Nantucket, Falmouth, Wareham, Westport and Harwich. Brady said she hoped some day the entire state would be designated a no discharge zone as was the case in Rhode Island earlier this month. Lubber pointed out in neighboring Chatham 150 gallons were process last year, instead of being pumped directing into Stage Harbor, valuable shellfish grounds. Leach said this designation is the culmination of two years effort. But he took time to praise the foresight of former Shellfish and Marine Water Quality Committee chairman Robert Dowling for drawing the town's attention to the problems of water quality and shellfish closures three to four years ago. "People come to Harwich looking to go shellfishing here,"explained Leach. "That was lost."

The natural resources officer said he observed the no discharge zone being put in place in Wellfleet --the first in the state-- and Leach began following that path. For the past couple of years the town has had a voluntary no discharge provision in place. This provision comes with fines of up to $500. Leach said the town has put its house in order, explaining it would not have been right to require strict adherence from boaters if the town was not in compliance. He said tight tanks have been put in place at many of the town beaches and harbors. The town has clean, accessible facilities to encourage boaters to use these shoreside facilities.

"This has come about because of funding form the Clean Vessels Act, Sportsfishing Restoration Act, the EPA and the authoring and active efforts of Harbormaster Thomas Leach and members of the Shellfish and Marine Water Quality Advisory Committee as well as partial funding from the town," explained Selectman Peter Luddy when accepting the designation plaque. "It was a joint effort of many and all of those people involved should be thanked."

Dowling wanted to know how it would be enforced. The response was that the Coast Guard and Massachusetts Environmental Police have jurisdiction and Leach said his department has enforcement powers under state regulations.