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The Chatham Approach to Restoring its Ponds

Chatham failed twice at its Town Meetings to appropriate the money necessary to begin the sewering and wastewater treatment needed to alleviate the excessive level of nitrogen entering its coastal ponds. Failure was primarily due to an inability to adequately describe why the town was asking for the millions of dollars required to do the job. However, once the Estuaries Project delivered the scientific evidence of what was killing Chatham’s ponds, the way was clear: take the data, make it understandable to the general public, form a citizen’s action committee and go.

The turnaround did not happen overnight, it took ten long years to finally arrive at the point where Chatham is now beginning the most comprehensive effort taken by any coastal community in Massachusetts to meet the water quality standards of the Estuaries Project. Hundreds of citizens meetings, lots of overtime by town departments, completion of a Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan costing hundreds of thousands of dollars…..all driven by the desire to restore the town’s coastal ponds.

For various reasons Chatham has chosen to sewer the entire town at an estimated cost of $300 million dollars and spread the cost equally among the tax base. Approximately two-thirds of that figure will allow the town to meet the pond standards set by the State. Vineyard towns will most likely opt for selective sewering and each town will determine who pays in a different way. Up-Island towns may not have to sewer at all due to larger lot sizes and less density. But they still will need to devise strategies to protect their ponds.
The Chatham example is an extreme case of a town deciding to go full bore with sewering, but that is not the lesson Vineyard towns should take from the Chatham experience. The big lesson is the length and breadth of that town’s desire to cleanup and protect its invaluable coastal ponds. As soon as we receive our scientific reports we will need the same desire and effort.