Mass. expands no-discharge zone

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Piece by piece, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is working toward a statewide mandate requiring the safe and sanitary removal and treatment of sewage from all commercial and recreational vessels.

Piece by piece, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is working toward a statewide mandate requiring the safe and sanitary removal and treatment of sewage from all commercial and recreational vessels.

On May 16, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) New England office approved the petition by the commonwealth’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to make the waters of Scituate, Marshfield, Cohasset, and the tidal portions of the North and SouthRivers a no-discharge zone.

“We finished our review of the petition in March and sent our notice to the EPA,” says Todd Callaghan, no-discharge area coordinator for Massachusetts. “There was a public comment period, which ended on May 12, and they made their decision soon afterward.”

Callaghan notes that the provision only applies to boat sewage and not other types of sewage such as wastewater plants. So far, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire have instituted the provision statewide, in accordance with the EPA’s plan to have New England discharge-free as of 2010. Casco Bay of Maine became the first coastal no discharge area June 13, 2006, according to the EPA, and work is being done to cover the rest of the state’s extensive coastline. Massachusetts has four more major chunks of coastline to go, with an application currently in EPA’s hands for the areas of Cape Cod and all BostonHarbor waters.

“Our strategy is to get there, piece by piece,” says Callaghan. “We have always felt that local officials will work with us only if they have been brought into the process.”

Callaghan says much of his work through the Coastal Zone Management and the DEP is visiting various communities and talking with town selectmen, shellfish officers and residents.

Callaghan says another factor pushing mandatory no-discharge is boaters in surrounding states getting used to sewage pumpout points being readily available to them. Massachusetts has 120 facilities, with roughly 85 being state-funded and free of charge. Their locations and a guide using them can be found at www.mass.gov/czm/nda/pumpouts/index.htm .

“There are privately owned pumpouts at marinas and yacht clubs that do charge,” says Callaghan. “But we are able to fund a majority of them through our Clean Vessel Act that has been under way since 1994.”

Callaghan says this project is nothing new, although the EPA backing as of 2005 has jump-started a surge of interest and progress in the last two years.

“There were some areas approved in the ’80s and ’90s, but over the last two years we’ve had a lot of traction,” says Callaghan. “But now the EPA has made it a commitment, and we’re working hard to meet that.”

For information, visit the Massachusetts CZM site at

www.mass.gov/czm/nda/index.htm.