ALTERNATIVES TO WASTEWATER TREATMENT PLANT IN MADAKET        The MRA insists that the town consider alternatives including new septic technology and piping wastewater to the Surfside plant. Some contend that if the quality of our waterways is to be preserved, something other than on-site septic systems must be employed.  Whatever decision is made by the Town, there will be a financial cost.  Government funding options are limited, with taxpayers and/or sewer users likely to receive the bill.




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Those areas of Nantucket originally identified by the CWMP as “needs areas,” where on-site septic systems are likely to be polluting Nantucket’s waterways, have changed, and new potential needs areas have emerged.  Furthermore, when the CWMP was adopted, nitrogen loading (primarily from fertilizer use and septic systems that are unable to process nitrogen) was not a consideration.   The work group intends to conduct a careful review of work done by Woodward and Curran, the consulting firm which developed the original CWMP, and has now been retained by the Town for the CWMP update.

The cost of the Surfside Wastewater Treatment Plant was to have been financed through a shared effort – one-third borne by taxpayers, one-third by sewer users and one-third by new sewer connections.  But the number of new connections anticipated did not occur, leaving the Sewer Enterprise Fund under-funded.  If the Town determines that a new wastewater treatment plant is needed or that the Surfside plant should be expanded, the current funding problem will be exacerbated.The ninety acres at the Head of the Plains, which was used by the Federal Aviation Administration and is now considered excess property by the General Services Administration, has been frequently mentioned as a site for a new wastewater treatment plant for Madaket.

Sewer Work Group Issues ...

The eight member Sewer Planning Work Group (SPWG) has been discussing a variety of issues related to wastewater treatment since September 2012. The work group’s charge includes advising on funding options for sewer-related capital projects, recommending updates to the 2004 Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan (CWMP), and making suggestions on a program of public outreach and education relating to projects that may have a financial impact on property taxpayers and sewer ratepayers.


There have been many changes since the 2004 CWMP was adopted, including zoning changes that affect commercial and residential density, mandatory septic inspections and repairs, mining of the landfill to reduce the leachate into the waterways, new septic technology, the extension of town water to Madaket, new island-wide fertilizer guidelines, and the estuary study that set the Total Maximum Daily Load  (TMDL) of nutrients into Nantucket’s harbors, ponds and creeks.  (Some question the validity of the TMDL and the assumptions on which it is based.)

​The Madaket Residents Association has argued that a new plant that could cost $50 million or more and that would handle wastewater from about 500 Madaket septic systems (the vast majority of which are used seasonally) is not cost effective. 

​The MRA also contends that the ninety acres should not be developed and should be preserved as open space for the enjoyment of all. The MRA has been and remains concerned about homeowners who have spent tens of thousands of dollars to upgrade or replace septic systems and who may later be required to connect to town sewers if Madaket is sewered. Those homeowners, the MRA asserts, should receive a financial credit that would reduce the cost of mandatory sewer connections.


The SPWG has reviewed data provided by the Department of Public Works that reveal that as many as 250 properties have been connected to the sewer system, perhaps for a decade or more, but that have never been billed by Wannacomet Water Company.  The work group believes that those property owners should be receiving bills.  The Board of Selectmen is expected to decide what additional costs, including bills for past years’ service, connection costs and privilege fees should be assessed.  Town Counsel has informed the DPW that case law supports 3 years of back billing.


Wastewater management is a multi-dimensional and complex issue that is sure to generate much debate in the future.  The MRA will keep its members advised about developments as they occur.