Editorial: Septics in harm’s way

Posted 1/16/20

Fair enough that residents of Westport’s East Beach Road want equal treatment when it comes to septic system enforcement.

The problem is that almost no place around — not in Westport …

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Editorial: Septics in harm’s way

Posted

Fair enough that residents of Westport’s East Beach Road want equal treatment when it comes to septic system enforcement.

The problem is that almost no place around — not in Westport nor in neighboring towns — takes anything like the pounding that the Atlantic delivers to East Beach Road on a regular basis.

As if to emphasize that point, just days after an East Beach representative voiced defiance at a Board of Health meeting, it happened again. A storm that was routine everywhere else sent waves clear over East Beach Road leaving it impassible until the town was able to plow the rocks away. This happens several times a year, even if no hurricane hits.

Conditions are so violent along this low-lying stretch that lot owners are required to tow their homes away from fall to spring (and whenever hurricane warnings are posted). Left behind to take the brunt are the tight tank waste containment systems, some of which, the BOH director said, are just 10 feet from the sea — no surprise that some spring leaks and fill with salt water. 

It is the town’s job to make sure that the septic systems it licenses work as intended, and these lots, and the tanks they contain, deserve the extra attention they have received.

There are reasons that these properties sell for a tiny faction of the price other waterfront properties demand. They offer fabulous views, but they are tiny, exposed, and offer zero protection for the trailers they hold (for part of each year) or for the septic tanks set in the cobble by the water’s edge.

Beach residents contend that Westport is wrong to require repeat inspections for their tanks without asking the same of systems along Westport’s other barrier beaches or along its river. 

And they would be right if systems in those other places were overwhelmed by every big (or even middle-sized) storm that strikes.

Sadly, these East Beach properties exist on borrowed time — they’ll be among the first to be swallowed by rising tides and amped-up storms.

In the meantime, septic inspections and repairs must be part of the price of enjoying one of the best views around.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.