Bridge Street Land Eyed For Upweller, Public Access

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Waterways

The land at 90 Bridge St., as viewed from the Mitchell River bridge. The pier supporting the proposed upweller building would extend out in the river from the area of the rock revetment. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

CHATHAM The town-owned property at 90 Bridge St. has a lot of advantages: it's in a prime waterfront location, it has key permits in place, and it's not tied up with an existing use. But the land has a major drawback: it's tiny.

Acting on voters' mandate to use the property to benefit many different uses, the town's three waterways-related committees met jointly last week to prioritize those potential uses.

Conceptual plans prepared by Dave Anderson of Stantec, the town's consultant, showed ways to include seven key uses identified for the land. Those uses include a home for the town's shellfish propagation upweller – which could impact the view of the recently rebuild Mitchell River Bridge – an expansion of the existing T-pier, the addition of handicap-accessible floats, a boat ramp, a picnic area, parking, and a slip for the Coast Guard's rescue boats.

“There was a fairly large wish list, if you will, of potential uses for that property,” Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson told the meeting. It probably won't be feasible to include them all on the parcel, which is less than one-tenth of an acre in size.

Gaining the broadest support was the option for an upweller building. As envisioned by the consultant, the single-story building would be about 1,800 square feet in size, built mostly on pilings over the water near the new Mitchell River bridge. The location would provide clean seawater for the seed shellfish, and the building would be surrounded by a wide deck that could be used by sightseers or anglers.

“So there is some aspect of multi-use with just the upweller,” Shellfish Constable Renee Gagne said. The existing upweller needs repairs, and is housed in the former Old Mill Boat Yard building which itself needs repairs. Its water intake pipes are close to the boat ramp, so water quality is not always ideal, shellfish advisory committee member David Likos said.

“This would be a key and vital change for the shellfish industry,” Likos said, noting that the town has issued more than 3,000 shellfish permits. Though the numbers are very preliminary, town officials estimate that it would cost around $1 million for the building and the supporting pier.

Harbormaster Stuart Smith said town meeting approved the purchase of the land on the promise that it “was going to be used by all members of the public and not just one group.” Having a variety of uses would increase the likelihood of further support at town meeting, he said.

One proposal includes the addition of a public restroom in the building, likely using a composting toilet to prevent the need for a septic system.

The building would be designed to blend with local architecture, but depending on its orientation – either parallel to the bridge and about 20 feet away, or at some other angle – it could markedly change the vista from the bridge. The site is also within the historic business district, Duncanson noted.

“We recognize, after all the discussions about the bridge, that putting something there is definitely going to probably engender some discussion,” he said. Officials, residents and preservationists spent years coming to agreement on a design for the reconstructed bridge, which was deemed to be historically significant.

The Stantec conceptual designs included floats for several transient boats and a number of dinghies. To comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the floats would be large, with fully accessible ramps.

The existing T-pier could be lengthened and equipped with a small jib crane to help commercial fishermen and shellfishermen unload their catch. But most at the meeting rejected the idea of a boat ramp, since there would be no room for trailer parking at the site, and barely enough room for a vehicle and trailer to enter and turn around.

South Coast Harbor Plan Committee member Ernie Eldredge said any uses of 90 Bridge St. should be considered as part of a larger plan for the future of the Old Mill Boat Yard and adjacent trap dock property. Because some of those uses would be better fulfilled at the other properties, Eldredge suggested that the town take its time considering the Bridge Street land.

With a recommendation by the Aunt Lydia's Cove Committee that the town not renew the Coast Guard's slip lease in Chatham Harbor, there was a proposal to use a portion of the Bridge Street land to provide a slip for their use. But the site is not ideal, Smith said. The Coast Guard would prefer a site closer to the Stage Harbor entrance for faster access to open water, he said.

Staff members will work with Stantec to further refine the conceptual drawings and additional meetings will be held with stakeholders. Anderson said he hopes to have a proposal ready for consideration by the board of selectmen in late April.