Barnstable Board of Health Holds Off on Nitrogren Regulation Changes

Barnstable Town Hall.

HYANNIS – The Barnstable Board of Health has shelved taking action this year on lifting interim regulations established a decade ago to improve water quality.

The board voted Tuesday night to continue a public hearing on the issue until January 22. They heard public comments for about two hours from a standing room only crowd.

The regulations, which limit development in certain areas of town, were put in place on a temporary basis to restrict nitrogen flow into all of the town’s water resources.

Development restrictions include the size of a property and the number of bedrooms in areas, primarily south of Route 6, where there are concerns about nutrient runoff and an overload of septic systems.

Barnstable Town Manager Mark Ells explained why there was a proposal to remove regulations and said there was never an intent to fully rescind them.

Ells said several initiatives have been but in place to address nitrogen reduction in waterways over the last decade and that there is a challenge in balancing economic growth while protecting quality of life and the environment.

Board of Health member Dr. Donald Guadagnoli does not think rescinding the full regulations is a good idea.

“The idea of modifying maybe on a case-by-case basis – like we do with many of the other changes that we make – so that we can allow for the town to grow so that we can allow for the town to have semi-affordable housing would be something that we should be considering, but carefully,” Guadagnoli said.

Guadagnoli agreed that property near Route 28 would make good sense for possible development.

“But I’ve also come to appreciate exactly how tenuous a lot of our ponds are,” he said.

The Board of Health may narrow the focus of discussion on possible regulation changes when it meets again in January, including areas of the Interim Saltwater Estuary Protection Zone. That zone covers most of the town South of Route 6.

Representatives from local environmental groups, including the Association to Preserve Cape Cod and the Barnstable Clean Water Coalition, expressed concerns with rescinding the regulations.

“Our basic stand is no net increases [of nitrogen] is what we are looking for,” said Zenas Crocker, the executive director of the Barnstable Clean Water Coalition.

Crocker said there should not be any increases in nitrogen even while there are efforts to reduce nutrients through shellfish, permeable reactive barriers and work with cranberry bogs.

“We think all that’s going to allow more development,” Crocker said.

Crocker said the regulations should not be rescinded but examined further and that alternative septic system technologies should be studied.

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