Visitor load shuts restroom on weekends

David Briggs
Visitors will have to use Porta Potties on weekends while the county finds a way to expand the town’s only public restroom.

Visitors flooding Point Reyes Station on weekends may boost the local economy when they shop and dine downtown, but their consumption has also led to a serious human waste problem: tourists have so grossly overtaxed the county-owned restrooms on Mesa Road that sewage recently breached a holding tank and toilets. 

Now the bathrooms will be locked on weekends until the county decides how to adjust the septic system to the unexpected demand.

The restroom, built in 2007 at a cost of $490,000, was designed to handle an average of 450 gallons a day, with a daily maximum of 900 gallons, said Rebecca Ng, the chief of Environmental Health Services. That maximum translates to 600 people. 

“Point Reyes Station has gotten so popular that it has exceeded that capacity. Way, way, way, way too much,” Ms. Ng said. “The tanks were so full that sewage was backing up into the restrooms as well as spilling out of the tanks themselves.” Recently, 1,400 gallons went through the system in a single day. 

Ron Paolini, the deputy director of operations for the Parks Department, said tour buses stopping in front of the bathrooms and increasing numbers of cyclists may be contributing to the problem. 

A new alarm system will alert the department when the septic system approaches capacity, but the main short-term fix is the weekend closure. In the long term, the county will consider enlarging the leachfield or installing a more compact sand filter. Pat Echols, the head civil engineer for Department of Public Works,  said building additional capacity could cost up to $100,000. 

Frank Borodic, a former president of the West Marin Chamber of Commerce, which is paid to manage the bathrooms, noted the years of back-and-forth between the county and the chamber’s so-called potty committee before the bathrooms were built in the first place. “Some [committee] members never lived to see the bathroom,” he said.