Harwich celebrates no-discharge rule
Settling In Like A Clam

As soon as the rest of Massachusetts' coastal communities take Harwich's lead, the entire state can be designated a no-boat-discharge area.

Tom Leach Demonstrates Pumpout cart. Harwich has acquired a substatntial inventory of equipment to manage the FNDA including two pumpout vessels.

By ROBIN LORD

STAFF WRITER Cape Cod Times

HARWICH PORT - As soon as the rest of Massachusetts' coastal communities take Harwich's lead, the entire state can be designated a no-boat-discharge area. "It will take redoubling our efforts, but that is our goal," said state Coastal Zone Management Director Peg Brady yesterday as she joined federal and local officials at Saquatucket Harbor to recognize Harwich as a no-discharge area.

Brady said her office and her boss, state Environmental Affairs Secretary Trudy Coxe, are committed to making Massachusetts the second state on the East Coast to have its entire coastline discharge-free. She said Rhode Island's coastal communities have spent the last five years doing the necessary things to achieve the federal designation last week.

While seven Massachusetts towns have now made that commitment, many others are reluctant to even seek federal grant money for pump-out facilities because they are not ready to do the long-term maintenance. But there is strong incentive for towns to achieve the no-discharge status, said Mindy Lubber, federal Environmental Protection Agency deputy regional administrator. She said human waste from boats is a major contributor to the contamination of shellfish beds along the coast - a $3.4 million per year business - and threatens to contaminate the beaches that bring $500 million in tourist money each year.

She and others yesterday praised Harwich for taking responsibility for its role in helping solve coastal pollution. "I want to recognize Harwich for taking the long view," Brady said. The town's board of selectmen made the town a voluntary no-discharge area in 1995 after the local shellfish and marine water quality committee pressed for it. Since then, Harwich harbor master Thomas Leach has been putting together the necessary paperwork and outfitting the facility to achieve the federal designation.

The designation is made by the Environmental Protection Agency under the federal Clean Water Act. It means that boats are prohibited from emptying their heads along the entire Harwich coastline within 400 feet of shore. In Harwich, it will be a move toward protecting shellfish beds in the town's three harbors - Wychmere, Allen and Saquatucket - as well as Muddy Creek, Round Cove and parts of Pleasant Bay.

Leach said all of Harwich's shellfish beds have been closed to fishing due to elevated coliform levels at certain times this year. Only a portion of Pleasant Bay has escaped the high levels. He said the no-discharge label allows the town to at least begin to clean up its coastal waters. Harwich joins other the previously designated Cape and island areas of Wellfleet, Nantucket, Waquoit Bay and Stage Harbor.

The roughly 750 boats homeported in Harwich now have to use a shore pump-out facility at Saquatucket Harbor, or one of the portable pump-out carts available at the town's yacht clubs. Lubber said that since Chatham's no-discharge designation last year, it has pumped 150 gallons of sewage from local boats. (Harwich pumped more than 2500 gallons of raw sewage from boats in 1997). Rhode Island's Block Island has seen "quantifiable" improvement in its surrounding water quality since its designation.

Fines for dumping in no-discharge areas can be up to $500, with possible jail time as well. Lubber said enforcement is a combined effort between local, state and federal authorities. Leach said the EPA was reluctant to expand the no-discharge area beyond 400 feet of shore because of the increased enforcement area that would create.

This article was a feature story in the Cape Cod Times Thursday August 20, 1998, page 3.

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