Cape Summit Finds Consensus On Water Pollution Threat

The process was slow and arduous—one participant said the last time he had had so much fun was during a root canal—but at the end of a three-hour session last night in Yarmouth, representatives from environmental organizations from around Cape Cod had reached a strong consensus on how to confront the threat facing water quality on the Cape.

Using electronic key pads to cast votes, participants in what was billed as a “Cape Cod Environmental Summit” addressed why the organizations care about the threat posed by water degradation on the Cape, factors contributing to the problem, the need for urgent action, and the next steps in a collaborative process to draft principles as a way to take action.

In a series of votes, language expressing the principles often drew support from more than 90 percent of the participating organizations.

Representatives of more than 30 environmental organizations participated in the summit, held at the Cape & Islands Association of Realtors Conference Center in Yarmouth.

In opening remarks, Kenneth Kimmell, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, called the summit itself “a huge step forward.”

Mr. Kimmell pledged the support of the state for the most cost-effective solutions to water pollution on the Cape.

At present, Mr. Kimmell said, waters across the Cape are violating federal clean water standards.

“This cannot continue unabated,” he said.

The state agency, he said, has to enforce those standards.

The entire Cape, he said, could be designated a nitrogen-sensitive area, with more stringent pollution control measures placed on homes and new businesses.

At the summit, participants agreed that nutrient loading of local waters caused by human activity is the top environmental problem facing the Cape.

They further agreed that inaction is not an option.

The problem continues to get worse and the expense of solving the problem continues to climb, said Richard Elrick of the Cape and Islands Self-Reliance Corporation.

Summit participants identified nutrient loading by septic systems as the major source of water pollution on the Cape.

Participants supported an integrated approach to addressing the problem of water pollution on Cape Cod, including growth management, zoning, and the preservation of open space.

They further backed creation of a regional wastewater plan to address the problem.

Paul Niedzwiecki, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission, said the commission plans to release its plan on the wastewater issue in December.

That plan is designed to include a variety of approaches, rather than a single approach, to confront the issue.

Former state senator Robert O’Leary of Cummaquid, a representative of the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, said the Cape needs to present the pollution problem as a regional challenge to attract the necessary federal and state funding to finance whatever steps are taken across Cape Cod.

Summit participants also agreed that revised regulations and/or legislation are needed to address the continued use of on-site cesspools and Title V systems.

But an amendment proposed by Jaci Barton of the Barnstable Land Trust to include language encouraging the use of alternative septic treatment systems spurred discussion.

“The septic approach is part of the problem,” said Edward DeWitt, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, the organization that set the proposal for an environmental summit in motion.

At the end of the discussion, the mention of alternative systems was knocked out, but the final statement on that issue drew the lowest consensus on principles at the summit, 77 percent.

On the other hand, the need for environmental monitoring and continual re-evaluation of anti-pollution measures drew the support of 96 percent of the voters.

At the conclusion of the summit, a majority of the participants voted to review a proposed overall draft of the principles via e-mail, and then reconvene in four to six weeks to discuss and ratify a formal statement of the principles.

“We want to say this is the environmental voice of Cape Cod,” Mr. DeWitt said. “We have a very powerful message and we want to communicate that message.”

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