Manter Well to Secure Tisbury Water Supply Is Major Issue at Special Town Meeting

By JOSHUA SABATINI

Tisbury residents could secure their public water supply for the next decade or more by approving at a special town meeting Sept. 10 a $2 million project to establish the Manter well as the town's third municipal water source.

Once it is up and running, the Manter well would add as much as 1.4 million gallons to the town water system each day, said Tisbury water superintendent Deacon Perrotta. The proposed well, located along a dirt road off Old Holmes Hole Road, could pump up to 1,000 gallons per minute.

The town's other two wells are the Sanborn and Tashmoo wells, which have outputs of 1,200 and 740 gallons per minute.

Tisbury's approximately 2,600 water works customers currently pay a flat $214 fee each year in exchange for up to 40,000 gallons of town water, enough for most households. There is a $1.45 charge for each additional 1,000 gallons used.

Installation and operation of the new well would raise water rates by approximately 36 per cent, resulting in a revised annual fee of about $291. According to Mr. Perrotta, rates would rise further if a plan to replace the water lines on Beach Road and Main street is approved.

The well project would have no impact on the town's general tax rate, said tax collector Tim McLean; users of private wells will not contribute to its expense.

Tisbury's daily water usage peaked this summer at 2.2 million gallons, Mr. Perrotta said - a number that increases every year. "It's very fortunate that there has not been a water problem with the wells during the summer months," he said.

The operation of both existing town pump stations for 24 hours a day produces an output of 2.8 million gallons.

But normal pump cycles, the water superintendent said, should not exceed 10 to 12 hours a day. Such high usage puts a strain on the two wells and can lead to equipment failure.

In addition to supporting current and likely future water use, Mr. Perrotta said the Manter well would provide a backup if an existing well were to become inoperable due to mechanical failure.

On Sept. 7, for example, the Tashmoo well was struck by lightning and was temporarily unable to pump water.

Also a concern is closure as a result of contamination. As water commission chairman David Schwab pointed out, one of the wells is adjacent to the landfill.

"We are always sampling this well," he said. "We have never had a bad sample, but you never know."

Right now, if the Sanborn well - the larger of the two - were to go off-line, the town could only pump 1.06 million gallons daily, well below peak demand.

For the water commissioners, the new well represents a valuable resource. "There are places off-Island that would absolutely die for" a well of the Manter's pumping capacity, said Mr. Schwab. "Some places only have wells that put out two or three hundred gallons per minute and have to put in 10 wells in town."

The Manter well project has been in various stages of planning for about 20 years, said Mr. Schwab. Two main issues have held the project up.

One is the site's proximity to the septage lagoons. The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) would not allow the town to use the well for a public water supply, Mr. Schwab said, because it was afraid it could "pull some of the contaminants in" from the septage lagoons.

That issue was resolved last summer when the town finally closed the septage lagoons in preparation for installation of the planned sewage treatment facility.

Another issue keeping the water commissioners from moving ahead with the project was a delay in the town's acquisition of a piece of nearby property. The parcel - disposition of which is currently before the state land court - was needed to provide the mandated 350-foot setback from all adjacent property.

But last month, Mr. Schwab said, DEP gave the commissioners permission to go ahead and drill the well 350 feet from its original proposed location. The new site also meets the setback requirement.

The Martha's Vineyard Land Bank and Tisbury worked together to acquire the various protective holdings around the Manter well. The last purchase was in 1992, when the land bank bought 12 acres from the Manter Trust. Then as now, the Manter well was proposed to become a main water supply for the town's water users.

"It would be nice to have [the disputed piece of property], but it is not going to stop us now," said Mr. Schwab.

The commissioners' first step in the project is to establish a test well on the site, bids for which were opened and taken under advisory last week. The lowest bid was $217,000.

The water works already has the money to pay for the test well, but will await results of the vote at town meeting before moving ahead.

Once the test well is installed it must pump for 24 hours, Mr. Schwab said. Then the samples collected from the well will be tested.

"If we get back the samples and they are all clean, we can proceed ahead with putting in the permanent well," said Mr. Schwab. "If they come back bad, we will have to reevaluate where this well is going to go, but that is unlikely."

Mr. Perrotta said much of the $2 million projected cost accounts for bringing in electricity, hooking the well up to the main water line, constructing the infrastructure for the well and chemical feeds.

"If approved on Sept. 10, we should have the well online in the spring of 2004," said Mr. Schwab. "And that is critical at this point.

"It is important to get this new well site online. The town has spent a lot of money for this aquifer protection, the land bank has spent a lot of money, and it is about time we get something going to justify those expenses."

The special town meeting takes place Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at the elementary school gymnasium.