Application of Harwich for Federal
No-Discharge Area

How Harwich achieved its no discharge area desigantion.

IntroductionCertification of Need
Pump Out FacilitiesLocations, Equipment, and Accessibility
Operating ScheduleTreatment of Waste
Fulfillment of MCZM GuilelinesShellfishing Sites
Shellfish Closures and GrantsBoating & Swimming Activity
Vessel Population and UsageNon-Point Source Discharges
Public EducationFuture Plans
Enforcement of NDAConclusion


The people of the Town of Harwich have been concerned about the degrading water quality within its watersheds and estuaries for more than one hundred years. References in Deyo’s History of Barnstable County and Paine’s History of Harwich imply our forebears were concerned for causes of an already dwindling run of sea herring (aelwife) into our estuaries perhaps caused by changes in the waters. They made resolutions which were trendy even by today’s standards, in some cases implementing year long prohibitions so that the fish stocks might spawn and recover.

As Harwich charges forward toward inevitable build-out, concerns grow for the impact of the drainage of our human waste through our porous soils. Not only will the mounting need for potable drinking water continue to be impacted, but the runoff and flowage into the estuaries will be ever increasing. The importance of controlling the elevation of fecal coliform bacteria in our waters may be overshadowed by a need to slow the load soluble nitrogen. This element in its nitrate form is already showing itself as the first stage of oxygen robbing eutrophication.

This No Discharge Area (NDA) designation is an important step of the many the Town will need to take in coming to grips with this serious situation. We believe that this is a good plan and has the support of citizens, boaters, and all who visit Harwich to enjoy its amenities.

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Certification of Need

The Town of Harwich is a Massachusetts municipality incorporated in 1694 with an estimated year-round population of 11,250 in 1995. It is governed by Town Meeting and administered by a five-member, part-time Board of Selectmen. The Harbormaster reports to the Town Administrator. Under its Home-Rule Charter, the Harbormaster is responsible for the care and maintenance of all salt water resources.

The Town is a sought after recreational region by summer residents, year-round residents, and visitors. Its chief attractions are its abundance of wonderful beaches, excellent boating harbors, and shellfishing.

Figure 2: Allen Harbor, a well developed harbor and a very popular shellfishing area in the off season. NDA zoning will help the two water-dependent interests co-exist.

Harwich is located on Cape Cod’s southern shore about 15 miles east of Hyannis, Massachusetts. Harwich is neighbored by Dennis on the west and Chatham on the east. The harbors, rivers, and beaches that border West Harwich, Harwich Port, and South Harwich are as follows (from east to west): Red River Beach, Saquatucket Harbor (also known as Andrews River), Wychmere Outer and Inner Harbors, Bank Street Beach, Wyndemere Bluffs Beaches, Allen Harbor (Figure 2), Earl Road Beach, Grey Neck Beach, Pleasant Street Beach, and Herring River.

Figure 3: Red River Beach in south Harwich draws swimmers and automobiles to enjoy what most think of as premium Nantucket Sound waters. Photo courtest of E.R. Lilley

Harwich is blessed with many fine swimming beaches on its contiguous boundary with Nantucket Sound as shown in Figure 9. Closure of these beaches has been threatened in South Harwich’s Red River Beach (Figure 3), because of high bacteria counts. As a result of high bacteria counts, the Town has had an increase in closures of shellfish beds and now is threatened with the closure of the very beaches that make Harwich a sought after tourist hideaway. It is the Town of Harwich’s desire to attain an NDA for the coastal regions of the Town of Harwich, so that we can maintain a high standard of water quality for our shellfish habitats, and for those who fish and swim in these coastal waters. The Town of Harwich is requesting a NDA be granted to three of our major harbors and contiguous beaches between and including Allen, Wychmere and Saquatucket harbors and to the Herring River where all these activities of shellfishing, boating and swimming occur.

Because Harwich desires this NDA we have assembled a Water Quality Study Committee and written grants to fund a Pump Out Program in the Harwiches. The following sections provide information about our pump out facilities, both what we currently have, and what we are proposing for the future.

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Pump Out Facilities

This section provides information about Harwich’s current pump out facilities, describes meetings with private yacht clubs and gives background information regarding how Harwich put together their pump out program. This section also provides specific information about the location of facilities, equipment, accessibility, the operating schedule of pump out facilities, and how the treatment of waste is handled.

As part of the application process for the pump out equipment, a meeting was held with local marine facility operators, yacht club representatives, the Harbormaster, the Town Engineer and the Cape Cod Regional Coordinator. This meeting proved there was a hesitation on the part of the private operators to get involved directly. They indicated that each business providing an expensive shore side system would mean a duplication and a waste of money and resources despite a 75% Federal funding rate. Further, the two yacht clubs, due to their short season and scope, could not provide the coverage.

It was determined that Harwich pump out needs would best be met through the Town developing a marine sewage transfer system.. It was also agreed that boaters would visit the Saquatucket shore side facility as required or make an appointment to have their boat pumped by the Harbormaster’s pump out boat. Included in this decision was that the pump out boat could be temporarily berthed in the care and custody of either Harwich Port Boat Works or Allen Harbor Marine Service and operated by trained boat yard personnel.

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Locations, Equipment, and Accessibility

In accordance with NDA standards, in 1995 Harwich built a stationary shore side pump out facility, we call facility #1, at the Saquatucket Municipal Marina (Figure 4) and provides mobile pump out capability with its purchase of a pump out boat (Figure 6), we call facility #2. Basic pump out needs will be cared for by these two primary facility units.

The shore side pump (Figure 4) at Saquatucket Municipal Marina is located on the south side of the fuel dock. This facility was installed by Robert B. Our Co. of Harwich in June, 1995. This area was dredged under contract with Robert B. Our Co. in 1995 to provide good accessibility for all vessels visiting Harwich Port.

Figure 4: These construction pictures of the shore side station at the south end of the fuel dock show how dredge spoil was used to cover the 2500 gallon holding tank, disguising it as a sand dune.

The discharge pump is a Waubaushene Vacuum Pump System, Model No. VR 125), which was mounted in an addition to the fuel dock building. The system provides a suction discharge via a 3" hose from a floating dock. Boats can maneuver and tie up at the floating dock where a low voltage switch on hose pedestal actuates the equipment’s vacuum cycle. The boat owner applies the nipple end of the suction hose to the onboard holding tank deck fitting. The sewage is drawn directly to the 60 gallon primary tank in the shed. As the primary tank reaches a predetermined capacity, the machine sensors command the system to alternation. The contents of the primary tank are emptied through a below-ground pipe to a 2500 gallon concrete tight tank which is buried in the hillside behind the fuel dock. If the operator fails to turn off the switch or the vacuum is broken and waste is no longer passing through the hose, the Waubashene system sensors will shut down the unit automatically after 12 minutes.

The alarm system for the 2500 gallon storage tank is located in the fuel dock operators office, overlooking the fuel float and pump out float. Since the fuel dock personnel share the same area, it is of necessity and practicality that the Fuel Dock Operator is under contract to oversee the safe operation of this pump out facility (see Appendix for contract). A float actuated alarm system warms the fuel dock operator through an alert light and alarm in the fuel control building when the tank is becoming full. The alarm is designed to activate when the system contains about 1700 gallons. This leaves a safety cushion of nearly 800 gallons. The Harbormaster also has personnel assigned from within his department to assist customers upon request and monitor the system.

Figure 5: The Harwich pump out boat, showing Edson diaphragm pump, suction hose, and fittings.

The pump out boat (Figures 5 & 6) is operated by the Harbormaster and neighboring marinas. Only qualified boat operators at these private marinas are trained by the Harbormaster’s personnel to use the pump out boat. Typically, the pump out boat docks at Saquatucket Municipal Marina, unless the private marinas request it for a short period of time.

Figure 6: Another view of the pump out boat.

The Harwich pump out boat is a 22’ Alcar Marine Environmental boat. It is a hard chine, fiberglass, open outboard vessel which has been redesigned by Bay Sails Marine of Wellfleet, MA. This boat accommodates a three hundred gallon onboard holding tank below decks. The deep-vee design provides for the safe storage of sewage in a vented tank system. A one hundred horsepower Johnson outboard was chosen to drive the vessel, as this motor can be serviced locally at Allen Harbor Marine Service, a registered OMC dealer. Other features of the boat include an Edson Diaphragm pump driven by a 3 horsepower Briggs & Stratton 4-cycle engine. This unit is pull start and has never failed to start in its first two seasons of service. Expectations are very high that this pump will, as reported by users elsewhere, offer little chance of failure. The boat is equipped with standard safety equipment, a compass, VHF radio, t-top, tow post with toe line & reel, blue flashing law enforcement light and a spotlight. A portable global positioning system (GPS) unit is brought on board as part of the emergency kit. When the boat is out of the water, it is towed on a extra duty Load Rite tandem wheel trailer with centrifugal brakes. The trailer was planned to have the ability to carry the boat with a full load of sewage estimated at an additional 3000 pounds. The pump out boat can be reached on marine VHF channel 68 (VHF ship/aircraft radio license WBM 6169).

These two above pump out facilities were purchased through funds made available by the Clean Vessel Act (CVA) which is administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWLS). Money for these grants was generated through the purchase of fishing equipment and motorboat fuels.

Figure 7: The Harbormaster's workshop and storage facility at 203 Bank Street will be used to store, prepare and repair all NDA equipment, including buoys, signs, pumpout boats, dock carts, and shore-based equipment.

All equipment, signs, boats, carts, trailers, motors, buoys, etc. will be stored during the off season at the Harbormaster’s storage facility and workshop located at 203 Bank Street in Harwich Port (Figure 7). This heated building is approximately 1200 square feet and provides enough space for the department personnel to maintain all related equipment. The workshop is exactly one mile from Saquatucket and Wychmere Harbors.

Figure 8: Wychmere harbor (left), a busy mooring area, shares a six foot entrance channel which is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers with Saquatucket Harbor (right).

Accessibility to Saquatucket Harbor and the shore-size pump out station is possible because the controlling depth of the harbor is six feet and the entrance channel is maintained as an Army Corps of Engineers project. This depth is maintained up to and including the pump-out facility berth at the fuel dock as of June 1995, when the fuel dock area was dredged to return this area to six feet.

Accessibility of vessels in Harwich to the pump out facility in Saquatucket is rarely a question because of the moderate 2.32 foot average rise and fall of the tide and relatively deep channels. Our harbors and mooring areas do not "dry out" as in other ports, particularly on the Bay side of Cape Cod. A controlling depth of 6’ is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers and through the new Barnstable County Dredging program.

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Operating Schedule of Pump Out Facilities

The Harwich pump out facilities operation is available on the following schedule during the regular season, May 1st through November 15th, weather permitting. Harbormaster personnel will be available to demonstrate the self-service system Tuesday through Sunday, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Facility #1 at Saquatucket Harbor will be open during daylight hours. All boaters are encouraged to learn the pump out procedure, so as to "help themselves" if they need to use the facility.

The pump out boat will come to individual boats by appointment. Appointments are made by calling the Harwich Harbormaster on channel VHF 68 or calling his office at 430-7532. Pump out boat services are normally available Tuesday through Sunday, 9 A.M. to 3 P.M. Please see the Appendix for the rules and regulations for the operation of pump out facilities.

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Treatment of Waste from the Pump Out Facilities

Harwich is one of 11 towns on Cape Cod that does not have a central sewage treatment facility. As a result, residents must maintain individual septic systems and be in compliance with Title V regulations.

The Town has exercised its contract with the Town of Yarmouth’s Sewage Treatment Facility to receive waste from the Town of Harwich. The marine pump out waste is treated by the Yarmouth facility at the rate of 11 cents per gallon. Waste collected will be taken to the plant by an licensed sewage hauler. Harwich has contracted Robert B. Our Inc. to haul the pump out waste on demand by the Harbormaster (see Appendix for this contract).

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Fulfillment of MCZM Guidelines and
Informational Requirements for NDA

The Town of Harwich is requesting a NDA be granted to three of our major harbors and contiguous beaches between and including Allen, Wychmere and Saquatucket harbors, and to the Herring River where the activities of shellfishing, boating and swimming occur. This request includes the entirety of the Town of Harwich’s southern shore line from Chatham to Dennis within the perimeter buoys set by the Harbormaster from east to west. These buoys are part of the area protected by the Town as a headway speed area and are placed between three hundred and six hundred feet from shore (figure 11).

Figure 9: Chart showing the southern shore of Harwich, with the proposed NDA in yellow.
The buoys are marked indicating either "Swim Area" or "5 MPH" as a way of warning boaters and water skiers of protection afforded all beaches by the Harwich Protective By-Law. These regulatory buoys will also be marked "NDA" as a way of indicating the No-Discharge Area status. This nomenclature will become familiar with boaters over time and with the proper information being distributed.

The three harbors which are within the NDA are home to over 753 boats (see Table 1). Of these, fewer than 10% are utilized as live aboard. These boats are either visiting Harwich Port as part of a cruise, used as weekend living quarters, or are commercial fishing vessels. Many of these live aboard type vessels are stationed at Saquatucket Municipal Marina where the shore side pump out and excellent bathroom and shower facilities (Figure 10) are available 24 hours a day.

Figure 10: The Harbormaster’s Office, picturing the addition of handicapped-accessable bathrooms on the left.

Additionally, some of these boats are berthed at Allen Harbor Yacht Club where shore side bathroom space is available. The manager at Allen Harbor Marine Service (AHMS) believes that these yachts are rarely visited at night, so twenty four hour availability is not necessary. Bathroom facilities are locked inside the AHMS showroom after closing, making them unavailable during the evening hours. These customers are welcome to use the Town comfort station next door in the Allen Harbor Town boat ramp parking area or they can come to Saquatucket Municipal Marina anytime during the day.

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Shellfishing Sites, Critical Habitats, and Natural Resources

Figures 11, 12, and 13 show where shellfish beds, bird habitats, salt water marshes, beaches and our Shellfish Laboratory are located. Most of these areas are seasonally closed and some are classified as prohibited areas due to high levels of fecal bacteria.

The shellfish area closures are reflected by the results of the following water quality data (Appendix) which occur seasonally and year round. Closed status is warranted when the fecal count of a seawater sample exceeds 14 bacteria colonies per 100 ml of water.

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Shellfish Closures and Grants

The following harbors and rivers within the boundary of the proposed NDA are permanently closed prohibited area to all shellfishing: Saquatucket Harbor from the jetty light northward, Allen Harbor north of the harbor mid-line stakes (striped poles) to Route 28, Herring River north of Route 28, and Red River north of its entrance. We are hopeful that with the proposed, NDA these areas will become cleaner and could then be opened seasonally again for both recreational and possibly commercial use or shellfish relay.

Unfortunately, the harbors or portions thereof can only be offered as seasonally approved areas, as Wychmere Harbor, Allen Harbor and Herring River become moderately polluted during the summer months. This trend seems to follow the ambient temperature of the harbor waters which peak at 76oF (surface water temperature measured at the Town Shellfish Laboratory at Wychmere Harbor, August 1995).

Figure 14: Seeding quahogs near the shellfish lab on the shores of Wychmere Harbor.

In order to protect and preserve the sensitive shellfish resource in 1993, the Town formed and maintains an active Shellfish and Marine Water Quality Committee whose members monitor and study water quality results cooperatively with the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF). Harwich has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the DMF to open these shellfish areas after October and close them around mid-June.

Figure 15: The Shellfish Lab (above) and a close-up picture of one upweller (bottom).

The Natural Resources Department maintains a rotating clam "farm" in conjunction with its shellfish laboratory. The shellfish lab (Figure 15) operation raises shellfish from a mere 500 microns to the field plantable size of 15mm. In 1996, the shellfish laboratory at Wychmere Harbor produced close to 2,000,000 quahogs mercenaria notata through its upwelling system (Figure 15).

Harwich has drafted a new Aquaculture Plan and Shellfish Grant Licensing Program (see appendix B) which will allow for the development of shellfish grants and fish farming in the future. It is imperative that if these efforts are to be successful, water quality standards must be maintained and improved. It should be obvious that the overboard discharge of sewage, treated or untreated, is not compatible with rearing edible shellfish which concentrate their food through a process called filter feeding.

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Areas of Intensive Boating and Swimming Activity

All of the areas indicated within the proposed NDA are areas of high boating activity, both commercial and recreational. Also, there are numerous swimmers along the indicated beaches. Most of the Harwich transient boating population is in Harwich Port between the Saquatucket Municipal Marina and Allen Harbor (as far as overnight transients. The picture in figure 18 was taken during the Summer of 1993 and shows a large segment of the mooring and docking areas in Harwich Port, both Town and privately owned or maintained.

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Vessel Population and Usage

A vessel survey was conducted by the Harbormaster during the 1996 Summer season, using questions from the Town’s Lease file forms and speaking with boat yard operators and yacht club managers. The Marine Sanitation Device Survey is given in Table 1.

Harwich Marine Sanitation Device Survey Results
# of Boats Docked Moored Hold MSDType III Chem.Type II Macerator Type I "Porta-Pottie" NoHoldingTank Boats with no head
% of Total
Allen Town3714235008816
Allen Private2525n/a5015311
Wych. Town60114940021539
Wych. Private2020n/a3001511
Wych. Outer3803860021020
Red River303000012
Herring River60204060032031
Private Saq.880400022

These numbers are of concern, since over half of the boat population in Harwich Port does not have standard MSD features onboard. However, many of these boats are day sailors, one-design racing sailboats, or runabouts which are not head equipped by practice. Also, these numbers do not include boats moored at Pleasant Bay and Round Cove which are not part of this NDA. (See appendix for information regarding Pleasant Bay).

Recreational boats are not required to be equipped with a head. However, the Clean Water Act requires that if a toilet is installed, it must be equipped with an operable MSD that is certified by the Coast Guard. Only 18% or 135 boats are equipped with a holding tank bringing the Harwich boat to facility ratio well within standards required for the NDA designation. This is not surprising since a large number of the boats are runabouts and day sailors which presumably will never have a head installed.

Saquatucket Harbor holds the largest number of permanately berthed vessels with 193 berths. Fifteen of these spaces are reserved for transient yachts which visit Harwich during the months of July through September.

Harwich Port is home to 35 commercial fishing vessels engaged in the ground fishery, ferry service, and party fishing trips. Several of these vessels are reported to be equipped with heads, but no functioning holding tank. The ferry service is the only large vessel which has a 100 gallon holding tank. There are also a dozen charter fishing boats and a sailing yacht that take passengers for hire from various harbors. Most of these boats are equipped with heads and small holding tanks. We are pursuing stricter laws for enforcing the requirements of MSDs and more frequent inspections.

While two yacht clubs serve the Harwich community, each berths different interests of the boating community. AHYC has become the traditional adult power boating club of the community. They offer a 68 berth marina for its members. The head survey in the above Table 1 indicated that more than half of these vessels are head equipped and should require pump out services which can be rendered by either of the Town’s facilities mentioned earlier.

Stone Horse Yacht Club(SHYC) in Wychmere Harbor has represented itself as a sailing club with the training and upbringing of youth at its heart. As a result, the fleet of SHYC boats is made up almost entirely of one-design racing dinghies. The following boats are included in their fleet: Wianno Seniors, J/22, Flying Scots, American 14’s, US420’s, Waterbugs, and Optimist Prams. None of these boats which occupy SHYC’s small marina are equipped with onboard head facilities, nor are they needed for such short boat races, etc. However, the Race Committee vessel that oversees this fleet was found to have a head but no MSD or holding tank (presumably will discharge overboard). Since it is likely that this vessel’s head is used as a matter of emergency convenience for the dinghy sailors and race committee, both young and old, and always inside of 3 nautical miles, a holding tank must be installed.

Harwich Port, because of its proximity to the fishing grounds, has become a popular landing port for more than seventy visiting sportfishing boats hunting the blue fin and yellow fin tuna. These fish are taken in both the commercial harpoon and "recreational" category. Most of these boats are lived aboard by crew while in the port between August and the end of September. Most of these transient tuna fisherman use the facilities at Saquatucket Municipal Marina and are also equipped with heads and holding tanks.

Herring River is mainly afflicted by storm drain run off and non-point discharge from septic systems. Coliform counts are further elevated by contribution of warm blooded animals and waterfowl during the warm season. For this reason, it is often closed to shellfishing. This area is also frequented by small boats tied to moorings. The activity level is not as high as Saquatucket, Wychmere and Allen Harbor, but nevertheless has a problem, mainly because of its fragile ecosystem.

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Non-Point Source Discharges

The Division of Marine Fisheries has completed a "Sanitary Survey" within the proposed region of this NDA which included the three harbors. Its accomplishment was to observe where pollution discharge may be occurring. No point source discharges were identified, however storm water overflows, bird droppings, nearby sub standard (non Title V) commercial and residential septic systems and roadway/parking area runoffs are all considered problematic sources of pollution carrying fecal coliform, soil coliform, nitrogen, phosphorous, fertilizer, pesticides and heavy metal into the estuaries. These pollutants contaminate the harbor causing eutrophication and poisoning.

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Public Education Program

This is regarded as one of the most important components of the NDA. Without public knowledge boaters would be unaware that pump out services are available to them. The Head Survey in Table 1 indicates that fewer than one quarter of the boats in Harwich Port are equipped with either a head or portable toilet. Also, at least 19% of the Harwich Port boaters with heads do not have holding tanks, so their sewage is directly discharged from the head. These heads are illegal to operate within three nautical miles of shore.

Our hope is that we do a better job educating boaters about our new waste facilities and encouraging them to outfit their boats with Type III MSDs. Some ways that the Harbormaster’s Office is trying to do this is by sending mass mailings to our waiting list customers, mooring permit holders and slip lease holders. As an example of our efforts in 1994, all permit holders received an extra letter from the Harbormaster advising the Town’s interests in operating Harwich as a voluntary no discharge area. In 1995, the Harbormaster sent another letter informing boaters about the new pump out facilities, which are offered with at no expense to the user. In 1996, customers at Saquatucket Municipal Marina received a copy of the MCZM brochure describing the locations of pump out facilities in our area. Also, Harbormaster Tom Leach has given lectures in the Harwich School System, yacht clubs and boating safety groups such as the Coast Guard Auxiliary and the Cape Cod Power Squadron.

Public Education is also expanded through the public information type signs at the various landings. These signs describe how and where to obtain pump out services in Harwich. A Tide Chart type flyer is being prepared as a useful boating handout by the Harbormaster’s Office extolling the ease and virtues of using the handy pump out system. The Tide Chart includes important information about how to obtain pump out services.

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Future Plans - Pleasant Bay ACES as Part of NDA

Just recently a grant proposal submitted by the Harwich Engineer’s Office came through that will allow Harwich to begin the process of installing a pump out boat on Pleasant Bay. Also, in the future, there will be a joint application between the Towns of Chatham, Harwich and Orleans for approval of an NDA encompassing the entire Pleasant Bay area. This grant approved the purchase of a pump out boat and the purchase of pump out carts that will be assigned to each yacht club and boat yard to provide an alternative pump out method, and no reasonable excuse for not pumping out.

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Enforcement of NDA

Once granted the NDA, the Town of Harwich Harbormaster and his staff will be able to enforce the NDA in the proposed region. Due to our small department we will rely mainly on the Chatham Coast Guard and the Environmental Police to enforce the NDA outside of our proposed region. Harwich is just not large enough to fund an NDA to the three mile limit at this time, but we do patrol the waters in the proposed region frequently. Also, we think that any transients that dock at Saquatucket and surrounding marinas should be required to pump out before docking for the night. If MCZM has any suggestions on furthering our enforcement efforts please contact us. The Harbormaster would write tickets for illegal discharges under CMR 323, sec 2.07(6) Discharge. This regulation provides for a fine of $50 to $500 or 30 days to two years in jail as punnishment for illegal and should be the hallmark of enforcement of the NDA in Massachusetts.

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In short, this application contains Harwich’s coastal history, the current status of Harwich’s coastal region and what Harwich would like to become with the approval of this NDA. It is in the best interests of the Town and its inhabitants that we do the best we can to protect our coastal region. With the installation of pump out facilities and the approval of this NDA, we can reduce the contamination of our coastal waters and beaches, improve our overall water quality, and make our shellfish areas more available to commercial and recreational shellfishing.

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