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Provincetown sewer emergency: Restaurants ordered to close, ‘flush only when absolutely necessary’

PROVINCETOWN — Provincetown has declared a sewer emergency, ordering some restaurants to close during the peak tourist season and residents to reduce their water usage as crews work to fix a problem that has been going on for days.

Emergency impacts the properties of the vacuum sewer system – it does not apply to gravity system customers or locations with on-site septic systems. It could take up to 48 hours to fix the system, the city said.

The affected areas are on Commercial Street, from Snow Street to Point Street, and on Bradford Street, between Conwell Street and Prince Street. Click here for a list of affected properties.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: We are declaring a sewer emergency for properties on the vacuum sewer system. This includes…

Posted by Managing Director Alex Morse on Thursday, August 11, 2022

“Any restaurant or catering business in this service area will be required to cease operations immediately,” the city said in an alert. “This is necessary to prevent another public health emergency caused by sewer overflows, and we need to significantly reduce the flow to allow for critical repair work to get the city back to full capacity.”

Affected residents are advised that they “must reduce their water usage, including washing dishes, laundry, showering and flushing toilets only when absolutely necessary”.

Public restrooms will be closed Thursday and Friday. The city has ordered 18 portable toilets, which will be located on Ryder Street next to City Hall.

A line could be seen forming next to a portable toilet at 11 a.m. The squeal of septic trucks filled an unusually quiet commercial street Thursday night.

“Yesterday was a crowd scene,” one man said. “There were thousands of people walking up and down this street. Today it’s so eerily quiet.”

The line outside a portable toilet in Provincetown during the sewer emergency.


City manager Alex Morse previously said Tuesday’s thunderstorms caused electrical problems at the central vacuum station, which runs the downtown sewer system.

The Boatslip Resort on Commercial Street said its popular Tea Dance has been suspended until further notice due to the sewer emergency.

Next week is the Carnival celebration, which draws tens of thousands of people to Provincetown.

“I know it’s a tough question and a tough time of year, but if we can limit it to two days and before carnival, it’s a better outcome to let these guys go out on the streets and do these repairs than having to close for next week,” said Lezli Rowell of the Provincetown Health Department.

Dark dining rooms and closed kitchens are a nightmare for restaurateurs who rely on a classic Cape Town summer.

“For two years, we had to deal with the problem of COVID,” said Steven Schnitzer, owner of JD. He’s worried about two dozen employees and the fresh seafood he wants to sell.

“You basically have 10 Saturdays in the summer that are your best days,” Schnitzer said. “You lose on a Saturday, you’re really, really in trouble.”

Morse shared an encouraging update on the situation on Thursday afternoon.

“We continue to make progress and we are moving in the right direction,” he said. “Thank you to everyone who is cooperating with the restrictions announced this morning – it is making a difference and allowing our crews to do the necessary work. This must continue.”

Still, business owners and restaurant owners were frustrated at how vital this time of year is to survival.

“It’s a nuisance, it’s a disappointment. It’s a disappointment here in P-Town because it’s an upcoming tourist spot,” said Karen Peloquin, owner of Storm Scooters.

Jamie Lewis of Governor Bradford’s restaurant echoed Peloquin on how the issue is hurting his business.

“I don’t think it’s good for anyone. It’s the time of year to survive all year. So I think it’s been tough,” Lewis said. “It’s frustrating, but again, it’s completely out of our control.”

However, some tourists, like Jeff Brockette, were able to shed light on this situation.

“It’s a lot of fun for us,” said Brockette, who is from Texas. “We’re having a good time with it.”


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