Seacoast riled up over wastewater pipeline planning
One of four options involves coastal treatment and discharge 4.3 miles out to sea
Many in the Seacoast are just becoming fully aware of the New Hampshire Seacoast Region Wastewater Management Feasibility Study. And some officials along the ocean-front Seacoast have expressed alarm. The overall goal is to protect the Great Bay Estuary in terms of sewage treatment and disposal in the region. First steps go back at least to 2003 when Senate Bill 70 was passed, and to 2004 when Senate Bill 481 was passed to form EAST, the Estuary Alliance for Sewage Treatment. For shorthand here we will refer to the overall project as the WWTF (Wastewater Treatment Facilities) planning.
Much has happened since the subject was last mentioned in Rye Reflections nearly two years ago. As of November, 2007, planning is narrowed to four alternatives. This review briefly describes these alternatives and then focuses on Alternative 2, which is of special concern to the towns with direct ocean frontage.
The existing WWTF on Peirce Island in Portsmouth, which discharges 4.5 million gallons/day without secondary treatment. (Jim Cerny photo)
The main collection point for information is the CoastalClear
Web site. Here's a recommend quick start, to get you up to speed without your eyes glazing over.
Brief summary of the four alternatives
- No action. Treatment would continue at each of the exiting 17 WWTFs with discharge at existing locations.
- Treatment at existing WWTFs with collection and discharge to an ocean pipeline.
- Decentralized treatment at existing WWTFs, with upgrades.
- Treatment at existing WWTFs with discharge at land application sites.
Getting up to speed on Alternative 2
The legislature mandated inclusion of ocean pipeline disposal as part of the study, what is now Alternative 2. And that alternative can't be implemented by EAST without further legislative approval.
- Click on "About the Project" in the left navigation bar and read the project overview.
- Then click on "Documents" and read the "Executive Summary," noting that there are four alternative plans under consideration. Alternative 2, that calls for a ocean sewage pipeline off the Rye seacoast, is the one of most immediate concern to local governments.
- Select "Section 6" which discusses Alternative 2 in detail — this is 17 pages, so skim first to understand the scope and then read in detail.
- Beyond this, browse the CoastalClear.org site to familiarize yourself with the other documents that are available.
There are a number of stakeholders and players in all this: the Legislature which initiated the study; the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services; Metcalf & Eddy which was selected to conduct the study; the Great Bay Estuary Commission which provides community representation during the study; the Estuary Alliance for Sewage Treatment (EAST) which is a public body separate from the State, that would have the power to build and operate facilities; and, of course, the individual communities that would participate.
The 44 communities covered by EAST make a much more expanded "Seacoast" than is normally thought of, ranging as far north as New Durham and Brookfield (which are actually in the Lake Winnipesaukee watershed) and as far west as Candia and Deerfield, and as far southwest as Kingston and Danville (which are in the Merrimack River watershed)!
It is Alternative 2 that is raising the most concern at present among ocean-front towns. Alternative 2 calls for an enormous infrastructure to bring wastewater from seventeen area WWTFs to a single treatment point on the Rye coastline, then to discharge via a pipeline into the ocean. This would involve 91 miles of pipeline and 30 pumping stations on land, siting of a Regional Post-Treatment Facility (RPTF) at the shore, and at least 4.3 miles of ocean pipeline six feet in diameter, partly trenched.
Schematic map showing linkage of 17 existing wastewater treatment facilties to discharge in an ocean pipeline. (figure 3-2 from CoastalClear.org)
Issues and criticisms …
Representative David Borden (New Castle and Rye) is quoted in the Union Leader as saying the ocean pipeline idea is "not solving a pollution problem, it's moving a pollution problem and dewatering a whole area." The Town of Rye "strongly objects" to Alternative 2 in an official response letter
in mid-February. In that letter Town Administrator Alan Gould notes, "This outfall pipe would certainly have an impact on tourism, the local economy, aquaculture and property values."
Expanding on issues:
- Expense. Construction costs for Alternative 2 are estimated at $589 million, nearly double the next most expensive alternative. The history of complex public and private construction projects is to grossly underestimate final costs, so we can expect the final cost will be much higher, that this would just be a downpayment. And who pays? To what extent is federal money available for this?
- Marine impact. Three alternatives are shown for a pipeline. Routes are constrained by the existence of zones of undersea cables. Cost estimates are for the shortest route, 4.3 miles, which would dump wastewater inside the Shoals, right at the Shoals Marine Lab on Appledore Island, in water about 60 feet deep (Senate Bill 70, by contrast, uses the phrase "the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean"). While two other longer, deeper pipeline routes are shown, they are deprecated in the reporting on the basis of expense, with pipeline costs projected at about $10.5 million/mile, not counting additional costs on shore.
- EAST as an entity. EAST is an entity with powers of eminent domain and presumably taxation (though that term is not used), but not a State department or agency, something that is unfamiliar. More discussion of such an entity is likely, independent of any recommended plan, for its impact on established government. Local legislators Sen. Martha Fuller Clark (Portsmouth), Rep. David Borden (New Castle), and Rep. Otto Grote (Rye) are among the sponsors of Senate Bill 523 to limit EAST's eminent domain powers to member towns, allowing towns to opt out.
Possible routes for a pipeline under Alternative 2 of the WWTF. (figure 3-4 from CoastalClear.org)
Remembering the Onassis refinery and Big Dig
It is not unreasonable to compare the threat posed to the ocean-front Seacoast by Alternative 2 as similar in magnitude to the infamous attempt by Aristotle Onassis to build an oil refinery in Durham
in the 1970s. More recently there is the Big Dig in Boston as an example of a complex construction project out of control in cost and with many construction defects. In fact the Rye representative to EAST, James Raynes, called this WWTF plan the "Big Dig of New Hampshire" at a Rye Selectmen's Meeting in October 2007
Input to the process
You can join a mailing list
for news and announcements about the study. In March, 2006, a charrette workshop
was held to gather public input and the questions were recorded, but generally without accompanying answers.
It is not clear what happens next, with the November, 2007 report complete. If you have questions and concerns you should work through your various representatives. For your members of the New Hampshire House and Senate, use this search facility
. For your representative to the Great Bay Estuary Commission, see this list
Appendix: Report highlights
These are some salient highlights from the November, 2007, Draft Alternatives Report
, on CoastalClear.org
that relate to Alternative 2, notable for their understatement. Some of these are also in the excerpts accompanying the Town of Rye response letter
Section 6.1.1 on impacts: Depending on the final siting location of the RPTF [Regional Post-Treatment Facility], the facility could result in an aesthetic impact to adjacent land uses.
Section 6.1.6 on reduced flow: To the extent that surface water flow and groundwater levels are reduced due to transfer of WWTF effluent out of the basins to a Gulf of Maine discharge, the habitat of local rare or endangered species may be altered.
Section 6.2.1 on maintenance: These force mains and pump stations would require routine operational attention and regular maintenance.
Section 6.2.2 on implementation: Siting of the components is anticipated to be difficult from environmental and public acceptance points of view.
Appendix D on the Rye coastline: Sites 2 and 3 [for the ocean outfall] would require a leg along the shore to avoid crossing the cable areas.
Copyright © Rye Reflections 2008. All rights reserved.