Hospital Is Exploring Ties to Oak Bluffs Sewer Line

By JULIA WELLS
Gazette Senior Writer

Leaders at the Martha's Vineyard hospital said this week that the plan to build a new hospital also now includes an emerging plan to tie into the Oak Bluffs sewage treatment plant.

"We have begun talks with the town of Oak Bluffs, and we know that nothing would be better than getting everything out of here," said hospital board vice chairman Tim Sweet yesterday.

The hospital is currently served by an on-site sewage treatment plant. Hospital trustees are now hip-deep in an ambitious capital project aimed at replacing the leaky, sprawling circa 1972 hospital with a brand new state-of-the-art building. There is no clear timeline yet and the price tag for the project keeps changing; at last count estimates were close to $50 million.

Last fall as the hospital began to host a series of forums on the new building project, the Oak Bluffs conservation commission took up the topic at its regular meeting one night.

The result was an Oct. 1 letter to hospital board chairman John Ferguson, urging the hospital to take into account its own surroundings.

"The hospital site is surrounded by a variety of natural resources, some of which are not in good health. These fragile resources include salt marshes, beaches, dunes, vegetated wetlands, Brush Pond, Lagoon Pond and Vineyard Haven Harbor," wrote conservation commission chairman Joan Hughes.

"While you are still in the planning stages of the new facility the commission encourages you to consider designing a septic treatment facility that includes two critical components: 1) a nitrogen reduction system, and 2) the capacity for neighboring property owners to tie into it," Mrs. Hughes wrote.

There was no formal reply to the letter, although Mr. Sweet said this week that he did later call the conservation commission later to respond verbally.

"As we began to think about this we realized it would be better for everyone, not just the hospital but for the town and the houses beyond us," he said.

A number of houses along the Beach Road have raised concrete leaching fields.

"Here is the perfect opportunity for a community partnership," Mrs. Hughes wrote in the letter to Mr. Ferguson. "A brand new, state-of-the-art hospital in an environmentally sensitive location will, with the right septic design and capacity, be a model of smart growth."

Environmental issues have surfaced more than once during public forums on the plan for a new hospital. There have been many questions - will the building be green, will it be energy efficient, will the project be environmentally responsible.

At the outset the architect for the project said there were no site problems for the new building, despite the fact that the entire area where the hospital is located is surrounded by a wetland. Mr. Sweet said later that the architect was wrong and that in fact there are some problems that must be addressed. Chief among them is the issue of sewage disposal.

The hospital building project will eventually require approval from the Martha's Vineyard Commission and also the town conservation commission. Among the steps along the way in the development of plans is another public forum, tentatively scheduled for next month.

Nitrogen pollution in the Lagoon Pond has been a growing topic of concern in recent years, and studies now show that the pond is at its limit for nitrogen loading.

"We've given this a great deal of thought, and we have begun some talks with the town of Oak Bluffs," Mr. Sweet said. "The key question was whether there would be enough capacity and apparently there is," he added. Mr. Sweet said the hospital would including neighboring houses in the hookup plan.

"It's one of those things that seems so logical," Mr. Sweet said.

The concept is good and green but it could also be expensive. Mr. Sweet said early estimates show that it could cost $1 million to accomplish the tie-in, which would require some kind of force main to run from the hospital up County Road. The closest junction for the treatment plant is near the fire station.

The treatment plant went on-line two years ago. It serves most of downtown Oak Bluffs, the Camp Ground and most of the Copeland District, a residential area with historic Victorian architecture.

In her letter last fall Mrs. Hughes urged hospital leaders to do the right thing. "By improving the declining water quality in the ponds it will help protect our shellfish and tourist industries. And by doing so - by helping to protect the Island's natural resources and economic stability - the hospital will be more than an in-house health care facility, it will be actively enhancing the health and well being of the Island community as a whole, on a daily basis," she wrote.