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EPA to approve dumping ban

Boston Harbor boaters will have to clean up their habits

Boston Harbor, after a $4 billion cleanup that renovated large waste-water treatment facilities and sewer systems, is set to become the largest port on the East Coast to ban a smaller but no less insidious source of pollution: sewage dumped by boaters into the sea.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency said it is planning to approve a request by state and local officials to ban dumping in Boston Harbor. The no-discharge area would extend three miles from Boston, Winthrop, Revere, Quincy, Hingham, Weymouth, and Hull. After the ban takes effect next spring, boaters would be required to dump sewage farther out to sea or unload it at pumping stations that flush the waste into municipal sewer systems.

Robert W. Varney, administrator of the EPA's New England Office, said commercial and recreational vessels dump thousands of gallons of sewage into the harbor every year. The waste can poison shellfish beds and drive up the number of days that local beaches must close to bathers. Violaters could be fined up to $2,000.

"Enough is enough," Varney said at a press conference with Mayor Thomas M. Menino and other officials. "It's time to stop discharging into our coastal waters. It's time to use pump-out facilities and create an expectation that these will be the cleanest waters in the United States and [that] anything less than that is unacceptable."

New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island have already made their coastlines off-limits for sewage dumping from boats. Casco Bay in Maine has also been declared a no-dumping zone, along with eight coastal areas in Massachusetts, most near Cape Cod and Nantucket.

But few large port cities, where commercial and recreational boat traffic can be high, have such bans. The port of New York has no such protections. San Diego is one of the few cities to approve a dumping ban, the officials said.

Boston officials said they began focusing on sewage from boats after other major hurdles in the two-decade cleanup of the harbor had been cleared, including construction of a state-of-art waste-water treatment plant at Deer Island and a 2-mile tunnel to carry storm water and sewage away from beaches. State officials said they hope to have all coastline in Massachusetts designated a no-dumping zone by 2009.

"In just over a decade, we transformed our harbor from the filthiest in the nation to the cleanest," Menino said. "No discharge is another part of our effort make sure that Boston Harbor is the cleanest harbor in America."

Some worried that Boston Harbor would be unable to accommodate the 7,000 boats registered in harbor communities and the many outside vessels docking in the area. The harbor has about 26 public and private dockside sewage pumping stations, including 13 in Boston. About a half-dozen pump boats travel the harbor to unload sewage from vessels and ferry it to dockside pumping stations. The services are free, but some worry that the wait for service could be long.

"Let's face it: No discharge is certainly going to make it a lot better, but it's going to be harder for some of the boats," said Paul Bramsen, dockmaster at Boston Waterboat Marina. "People will be running to be emptied out every time they use the boat. The manpower just to take care of this on the docks -- we could probably put two full-time people on this."

But many welcomed the ban yesterday, saying it would result in better swimming and fishing.

"It makes the water clean, and it's worth the effort," said Aaron Kegley, a first mate who pumped about 75 gallons of sewage yesterday from Formality, an 81-foot luxury yacht, to a 23-foot sewage boat, nicknamed Stinky, at Boston Waterboat Marina. The small boat then pumped the sewage into a pipe on the marina, which connects to the city sewer system. The boat makes about a dozen such runs every day.

"No one appreciates the value of clean water more than the Commonwealth's 186,000 recreational boaters and 300 marinas and boatyards," said Leona Roach, executive director of the Massachusetts Maritime Trades Association.

Boaters said that fewer boaters cast sewage into Boston Harbor than they once did, mindful that they would probably encounter scorn from fellow boaters.

"It's kind of a rule of the road as far as boaters are concerned," said Kathy Rowe aboard Once Around, a 95-foot yacht from the British Virgin Islands docked yesterday at Boston Waterboat Marina.

Still, about 15 percent of boaters in Salem Harbor admitted to dumping within 3 miles of the coastline, according to a 2004 state-funded survey of 871 boaters by Salem Sound Coastwatch.

Lawrence J. Cannon, 68, who was piloting the sewage boat at the marina, said most boaters police themselves and refrain from dumping. The proposed ban, he added, "is good for everyone."