The Sound as Sewer

And they told you a little mineral oil is bad?
Discharging waste into the sound's federal waters

By Moses Calouro

ssapiling400_400THOR HEYERDAHL, the Norwegian explorer and archaeologist, died in 2001 at 87. He is most well known for his adventures on the Kon-Tiki and the RA-II. He once said: "We seem to believe the ocean is endless, but we use it like a sewer." In Nantucket Sound, this is literally the case.

By federal law, any vessel can discharge untreated human excrement directly into Nantucket Sound as long as it is more than three nautical miles from shore.

Consider the Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority, the Massachusetts state entity that operates ferries to and from the Cape and Islands. The authority's ferries transport up to 3 million passengers a year and discharge minimally treated human excrement while underway in Nantucket Sound.

And they can afford to do it right 

The Steamship Authority could afford to pump its sewage ashore: It is the only such ferry service in the country that operates in the black with no subsidies. But instead, it discharges its waste into the sound's federal waters.

I am very concerned. This type of sewage is from 5 to 70 times the allowed limit for swimming or fishing. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a single weekend boater flushing untreated sewage into our waters produces the same amount of bacterial pollution as 10,000 people whose sewage passes through a treatment plant.

People swim, fish, sail and windsurf on Nantucket Sound. Remember Sen. John Kerry's wind-surfing campaign photo-op? And the sound, according to Robert F. Kennedy Jr., is one of the most heavily trafficked waterways in North America.

tkboat300_365And what about today's Figawi? 

Nantucket Sound is also a summer backyard of the rich and famous and powerful. Walter Cronkite sails on Nantucket Sound. Each year Sen. Edward Kennedy (shown on right sailing the MYA past the Kennedy Compound in Hyannisport) competes in the Figawi race, from Hyannis to Nantucket Island and back, on Memorial Day weekend. (Oddly enough, the yachts in this race can discharge their sewage directly into the same waters that fisherman work in.)

Senator Kennedy is concerned about Nantucket Sound. He stated on the Senate floor that Nantucket Sound is "pristine" and a "national treasure." However, he wasn't talking about sewage in the sound. That makes too much sense. He was making these claims to oppose the Cape Wind wind-farm project that has been under federal, state and local review for six years. He isn't the only elected official from Massachusetts to view concern over how Nantucket Sound is used. Congressman William Delahunt has stated that Nantucket Sound is "pristine" and a "national treasure.."

Ex-Gov. Mitt Romney once said: "Rather than the current Wild West mentality, I believe we need to examine better ways of looking at how we manage our ocean resources." He wasn't talking about using Nantucket Sound as an outhouse.

Moses Calouro, of Bristol RI, is chief executive of Maritime Information Systems Inc.. welcomes thoughtful comments and the varied opinions of our readers. We are in no way obligated to post or allow comments that our moderators deem inappropriate. We reserve the right to delete comments we perceive as profane, vulgar, threatening, offensive, racially-biased, homophobic, slanderous, hateful or just plain rude. Commenters may not attack or insult other commenters, readers or writers. Commenters who persist in posting inappropriate comments will be banned from commenting on