The levels of fecal pollution in the vicinity of Snow Marine Park at the South End of the Rockland waterfront register in the thousands, according to Terry Pinto, wastewater treatment manager for the city.

A level of 50 is considered a health risk and will trigger environmental fines, said Pinto.

Snow Marine Park, a popular place to walk dogs, was closed for general use in June as a result of the pollution. The boat launch remains open.

"Right now, this is not about where dogs should or should not be," said Pinto. "That's a political issue."

"This is a public health issue," he said. "Right now, Snow Marine Park is not a good place for people or dogs to go, and I need to find out what is causing it."

In humans, pathogens related to fecal pollution can cause serious illness and be fatal to young children or those with weak immune systems. Dogs are also affected and more likely to also contract roundworms and other parasites.

Pinto identified two sources of the pollution in the vicinity of the park.

The first is a stormwater drain that drains rain and snowmelt water from Snow Marine Park itself. It is highly polluted. Lab tests are in process to determine if pet waste or human waste is the cause. Pinto believes the cause is dog waste.

Rockland has a dog waste ordinance that carries a fine of up to $50 per incident and a dog leash law that carries a fine of up to $100 per incident. Rockland police and animal control officers can enforce both, but enforcement of the dog waste ordinance requires a witness.

Wally Tower, chief deputy of the Rockland Police Department, said there have been fewer than five charges in the past couple of months for improper disposal of pet waste.

"People have to call in and they have to make a witness statement," said Tower, who said those who want to file a complaint should call the business office (594-0316) or the dispatch office (593-9132).
The second source of pollution is more complicated and appears to be unrelated to the park drain. Pinto is unsure of the cause.

It is a line that drains stormwater runoff from the South End, all the way up past the railroad tracks where they cross South Main Street, said Pinto. That line dumps stormwater runoff into the harbor at Snow Marine Park. It, too, shows high fecal coliform ratings.

The source of the pollution is under investigation, with a robotic camera snaking through the stormwater system to check for breaks in the lines or even old sewer lines that may be illegally draining into the stormwater system.

Pinto is just beginning a public awareness campaign to let people in the South End know that the city will be going door to door to conduct dye tests in their houses, as needed.

Pinto will also oversee a city-wide smoke test, where non-hazardous smoke bombs are set off in the storm drains to see where leaks occur. The first smoke tests will be held in the South End, starting Monday, August 4, and continue across the city until Friday, August 22, said Pinto. The Main Street commercial area will be done early in the morning to minimize disruptions to businesses.

"Smoke could come out of the stack in someone's house or into their cellar, if there is a leak or a broken pipe," said Pinto.

"This is nothing new," he said. "These tests are done all the time, all over the world. They are comprehensive."

It's the process the city has to go through, step by step, to separate the stormwater pipes from the sewage pipes; a situation resulting from the age of the city, which predates modern sewage treatment methods.