Phinneys Harbor first to need septic system reviews with new law

Paul Gately
| Specifically for the Cape Cod Times

BOURNE — Lot-by-lot septic tank inspections — necessitated by stricter Title 5 regulations due in January — will begin in Phinneys Harbor at Monument Beach, one of the areas where nitrogen is choking life from nearby water.

Health Committee Chairman Stanley Andrews said on Wednesday draft regulations from the Mass Department of Environmental Protection. have recently been discussed with the city’s health inspectors to prepare them for what is likely to become their core business.

Nitrogen pollution leads to algae growth and robs the water of oxygen. As a result, native plants like seagrass die and fish and shellfish go elsewhere.

More: Rules for sewage systems could change in early 2023, Bourne’s health department said

Health Commissioner Terri Guarino said her office is willing to work with other Bourne agencies, particularly City Manager Marlene McCollem, the Select Board and city planning staff, when it comes to conducting septic inspections.

The second Bourne watershed affected by nitrogen is Squeteague/Megansett Harbor on the Cataumet/North Falmouth line. However, Andrews said the focus on improving water quality will start with Phinneys Harbor and include Back River to County Road and Eel Pond off Shore Road. He said there was no timeframe for the work yet, adding that the DEP regulations were still in draft form.

Inspections will identify the septic upgrades required

The overall idea, he said, is to determine where septic systems needed to be upgraded from the aging but conventional variety to the innovative and alternative waste systems still being tested, using old cesspools on seasonal properties that rely on tidal flushing and will be closed.

Andrews said it was unlikely that a large-scale sewer upgrade would be implemented in the area in the next five years.

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Guarino said her office will provide comments to the community on the draft DEP regulations. She agrees with Andrews that “probably the first area we need to move on” is Phinneys Harbor.

Andrews emphasizes that old seasonal homes passed down through generations relied on cesspools. There was never a city septic inspection.

Some homes evaded inspection for years

Now, he said, many homes have been sold outside of the families and this has prompted property reviews and recommendations to install new technology sewage systems. That, in turn, he said, caused dismay at the cost.

The Bourne Wastewater Advisory Committee, meanwhile, has reviewed watershed impacts documented by Environmental Partners, the city’s wastewater advisor. Members rated community acceptance factors for ultimate septic changes.

A new backyard reality is thus emerging in the broader effort, including a lawsuit to restore water quality throughout the Cape and its threatened ecosystems. This is often complicated by increased coastal housing construction, septic systems placed closer to wetlands and coastal shores, more boating in nitrogen-depleted areas, and fertilized lawns in older cottage colonies, which are seasonal and commonplace.

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