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Article Published August 4, 2020

Clearing the Air About Clinton’s Pump-out Boat

By Eric O’Connell/

In response to questions raised about the benefits of the pump-out boat, the Water Pollution Control Commission (WPCC) is hoping to educate Clinton boaters and ordinary citizens about the importance of the program.

A pump-out boat removes boats’ wastewater, so that boat owners won’t illegally dump sewage directly into local waters. WPCC Chair Matt Kennedy said that dumping sewage and waste water into Long Island contaminates the water, and so boaters must use the pump-out boats, which are funded with tax dollars, instead.

Every year the cost of the pump out boat is an item of concern during Clinton’s budget season. Proponents of funding the pump-out boat often point to the environmental and potential economic benefits of having a clean marina, while opponents view it as an unneeded expense for which taxpayers foot the bill.

Kennedy estimated the total program costs $50,000, of which Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) pays 75 percent, the town pays $7,000 and Cedar Island Marina the rest.

However, a requirement of the DEEP funding is that the pump-out boat service must be offered for free, which means the operators of the boat rely on donations to fund their portion of the cost.

The boat serves boats at Cedar Island Marina, Riverside Basin Marina, Clinton Yacht Haven, Port Clinton, Old Harbor, Boat Center/Free Spirit, Town of Clinton Marina, and Harborside Marina.

During conversations in public hearings prior to the budget referendum, funding for the boat frequently sparks debate.

“The complaint is that the town is subsidizing a private business and their customers, some who are not even from Clinton. On the surface I get the argument,” said Kennedy.

However, Kennedy said that other similar options would cost the town “the same if not more money” and argued that there are benefits for the whole town that outweigh the arguments against funding the service.

Kennedy said DEEP scientists say more bacteria is found in the untreated waste released from one boat than in the treated waste from a small city. The waste from the boat is more concentrated than that from a sewer system, making it worse for the environment, Kennedy said.

“If it dissuades even one person from discharging their boat, it’s worth it. And if we can get the word out and market it, we can cut way down,” Kennedy said about use of the boat.

As to the notion that the boat only serves the portion of the population that own boats, Kennedy also disagreed.

“The people who should really value this are people who value the environment at all. People who have kids that play on the beach and people who can go clamming now thanks to the hard work of the shellfish commission,” said Kennedy.

Last year the Clinton Shellfish Commission capped off years of work when it was able to successfully open recreational shellfish beds in Clinton for the first time in decades.

“It’s the WPCC’s opinion that the boat protects this town-wide resource,” said Kennedy referring to the shoreline that draws in many visitors to the town each year.

In addition to supporting outdoor activities, Kennedy says there is a fiscal advantage to keeping the town’s water clean.

“This is the most bang-for-your-buck thing the town is doing to address discharge in the harbor,” said Kennedy.

Kennedy said that the WPCC is hoping to increase publicity and market the service to better educate the public on the benefits of the program.

“It supports everything the town stands for,” said Kennedy.

During the yearly budget debates, the funding of the pump-out often is targeted for cuts. Kennedy says he hopes more people understand the role of the boat, and its connection to healthy water in Long Island Sound, so that people will not be so inclined to ask for it to be cut.