Harwich Expects "No Discharge Area" Approval Next Month

(7/22/98 The Chronicle)

Harwich Pumpout boats are a key element in the operation of the Harwich Marine Sewage Transfer System. Photo credit Dan Garrison.

    by William F. Galvin

    HARWICH --- The waters in and around the Nantucket Sound side of this community are poised to become the seventh body to be declared a "no discharge area." The federal Environmental Protection Agency is expected to make that declaration by mid-August. Presently, that federal agency is entertaining comments on the proposal, put forth by Harbormaster Thomas Leach, through July 27 and Anne Rodney of the EPA and Rick Zeroka of Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management have scheduled a final inspection of these waters for July 9 (today). "I commend the town of Harwich -- in particular, Harbormaster Tom Leach -- for this commitment to improve the water quality and natural resources in their community," said John P. DeVillars, regional administrator of the EPA's New England Office. "All over Cape Cod and New England, no discharge areas are producing positive results, improving water quality and restoring shellfish beds," proclaimed DeVillars.

    Cleaning local waters and improving shellfish habitat is a major cornerstone in this effort, according to Leach. He said this week the major benefit to this declaration would be a prohibition of the use of macerator-chlorinator devices in those waters. Those waters would include the Herring River, Allen, Wychmere and Saquatucket and the waters of Nantucket Sound out 400 feet from the shoreline. Leach said these devices mince up and chlorinate human waste and then spit it out into the waters. Shellfish are filter feeders and potentially are feeding on these particles of waste, stated the harbormaster. This exacerbates nitrogen counts in local waters leading to shellfish closures, but it also can cause algae blooms. "This spins those waters toward eutrophication, driving down oxygen content and stressing out marine life," stated Leach, who added there was a period in boat designing when these devices were placed in a number of major craft productions, such as Bertram and Black Fin yachts. He said many of those vessels were built without holding tanks. "The Shellfish and Marine Water Quality Committee and I are very excited to have our application reviewed," assured Leach. "A no discharge area designation may mean the opening of shellfish beds, which is good for both commercial and recreational fishermen."

    The declaration would impact the roughly 750 boats, many of which are below 25 feet in length and do not have marine sanitation devices, requiring owners to comply with the designation. The town has in place three sewerage pumpout facilities-- a pumpout station at Saquatucket Harbor and two pump out boats -- available. "We didn't think we'd have this until August and if we get it in place by mid-August, I'll be jumping with joy," stated Leach. He said EPA had hoped to move forward with this more quickly, but that agency has been tied up with a request by the state of Rhode Island to declare all the waters and embayments in its jurisdiction as a no discharge area.

    Should Harwich get its approval, it will join the towns of Chatham, Wellfleet, Nantucket, Wareham and Westport and Wequiot Bay as the only jurisdictions in this state with such zones. Leach said anyone looking for additional information, including the complete text of the no discharge area application, can locate it on the harbormaster's web site at www.capecodnet/harbormaster. Harbormaster Thomas Leach shows a portion of local waters that would get additional protection under the no discharge area designation. Photo by William F. Galvin