CHATHAM – With conditions on Chatham Bar the worst they've been in years, officials are being urged to fast track improvements to a Stage Harbor commercial dock purchased by the town earlier this year.
The town purchased the Eldredge trap dock at May's annual town meeting for $1.5 million. Adjacent to the town-owned Old Mill Boatyard, where the harbormaster's office is located, the dock was leased back to the Eldredge family for its continued use as a commercial pier, but was seen as a future location to accommodate the town's commercial fishing fleet should the fish pier at Aunt Lydia's Cove become inaccessible.
The time when the Eldredge dock is needed for that purpose may be coming sooner than anticipated, Waterways Advisory Committee Chairman Peter Taylor told selectmen last week. The bar across the inlet in front of the lighthouse, which leads from the Atlantic into Chatham Harbor, is “worse than it's ever been,” he said, noting that in the past few weeks at lest four commercial vessels had their windows blown out while crossing the bar, and a recreation boat capsized, throwing its two occupants into the harbor waters. Both men were rescued by harbormaster staff and were uninjured.
“It's not a nice place,” said Taylor, a commercial fisherman.
Chairman of Selectmen Jeffrey Dykens, who worked as a commercial fisherman in the past, said he's watched the bar and channel as its moved over the past few years. “It keeps coming south,” he noted, and shoaling has created “nasty shallow” conditions.
While Aunt Lydia's Cove is not yet inaccessible, the condition of the inlet does not bode well for future access, Taylor noted. There are currently no plans in place for upgrading or renovating the Eldredge dock, and he urged officials to begin the process – which would probably include somehow linking it to the adjacent facilities at Old Mill Boatyard – as soon as possible. He noted that the work begun last week on the bulkhead and piers at Old Mill Boatyard, a $1.5 million project supported by a $1 million grant from the state Seaport Economic Council, took more than five years to get to this point.
“We need to start this sooner rather than later,” he said of the committee's desire to jumpstart the process. “It's coming faster” than anticipated.
Having the infrastructure in place if the commercial fishing fleet needs to switch from Aunt Lydia's Cove to Stage Harbor is key to keeping the industry operating, Dykens agreed. The Eldredge dock is “our insurance,” he said. “It's our safety valve.
Selectman Seth Taylor added that there are a lot of elements to take into account when looking at the Eldredge dock, including offloading facilities and nearby docks and moorings.
“There's a lot to consider there,” he said.