CHATHAM – Lt. Governo Karyn Polito toured the town-owned Old Mill Boatyard on Stage Harbor Tuesday morning, getting a first-hand look at facilities that will be renovated and upgraded with a $1 million state grant awarded late last year.
The $1.5 million project, scheduled to get underway this fall, includes replacement of the facility's bulkhead, renovation and replacement of piers, floats and gangways, a new viewing platform and new intake and outflow for the shellfish upwelling operation located on the ground floor of the harbormaster's building.
Polito stressed both the economic and environmental benefits of the project, which will improve infrastructure for recreational boaters, commercial fishermen and the town's thriving commercial shellfish industry.
“These are gems,” she said of the Stage Harbor facility, which contains the only public boat launching ramp on the town's south side. “They are treasures, but they're also expensive.” She praised the town and state partnership that resulted in the Seaport grant as well as the commitment of town officials.
“I know that the dollars we are bringing are being used appropriately and wisely,” Polito said.
The state awarded the town $100,000 for design of the improvements in 2012. But the Seaport grant program languished for a number of years, which was “a huge stab for towns like Chatham,” said Selectman Seth Taylor. It was reconstituted as the Seaport Economic Council by Gov. Charlie Baker last year, with Polito as chair. Last November the council approved a $1 million construction grant for the Old Mill Boatyard project, matched with $550,000 in local funds.
The upgrades are sorely needed, Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon explained to Polito during a tour of the facility. The 300 feet of wooden bulkhead that fronts the property's parking area is “in dire condition,” he said, and is failing in places. It will be replaced by a fiber reinforced polymer bulkhead that will resist marine borers and have a longer lifespan than steel and timber. A viewing platform and stairs will provide low tide access to the shore, where there are significant shellfish resources.
The existing pier will be replaced by a new concrete L-shaped float and gangway that will remain in place year round. He noted that the current float is small, while Stage Harbor is the town's “most significant mooring basin,” with 500 “very active” moorings. The float on the east side of the boat ramp will also be replaced.
The parking lot will also be replaced with a concrete pad for boat haul out that, coupled with the self-contained power wash system the town purchased jointly with Harwich, will provide more environmental safeguards when boat work is being done.
The facility not only serves recreational boaters but is also an important safety valve for the town's commercial fishing fleet, said Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson. While most of the fleet is based in Aunt Lydia's Cove, concerns over the long-term viability of Chatham Harbor due to shoaling and movement of the barrier beach means that having Old Mill Boatyard as a backup facility is critical.
New intake and outflow piping for the upwelling system will improve the safety and efficiency of the shellfish growing operation, said Shellfish Constable Renee Gagne. Each year the town grows millions of quahogs, which help support a multi-million dollar industry that employs more than 300 wild shellfish harvesters.
Keon pointed out that in May the town purchased the adjacent trap dock for $1.5 million. The property includes invaluable commercial fishing offloading facilities, he pointed out, and at some point it will become part of the Old Mill Boatyard operation.
“We'll be coming back” to the Seaport Council for funding for that eventually, he said.
Bids for the Old Mill Boatyard project were due Wednesday, Keon said, and construction is scheduled to start in October. The work can't start until fall boat hauling out is completed and must be done before the season begins again in the spring, Duncanson noted.
“It's a really narrow window,” he said.
Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, who was on hand Tuesday along with Seaport Council vice chair Carolyn Kirk and Quincy Mayor Tom Koch, also a member of the council, thanks Polito and the council for the grant.
“Maybe you'll invite us back for a ribbon cutting,” she told town officials, “or a quahog shucking.”