CHATHAM – The town's extensive shoreline, and the public facilities which allow people to access the waterfront, are among Chatham's greatest assets. For many, it's why they vacation or buy property here. For others, it's where they make their living. It's a major economic driver, and enhancing and protecting those facilities has long been a top priority of town government.
Over the next five years, officials are proposing to spend more than $13 million on waterfront or waterways-related projects, beginning with $2.7 million in the upcoming fiscal year.
Most of the fiscal 2018 spending is to replace 250 feet of bulkhead along the fish pier's south jog. Another $2.8 million is proposed for the pier complex through 2022 to replace the wharfinger building, make repairs to the fish packing building, replace electrical and other infrastructure and expand the north and south jog float systems, including relocating Coast Guard vessel dockage.
Other waterfront projects listed in the town's five-year capital plan include replacing the Little Mill Pond pier deck, renovations to the Crow's Pond boat ramp, and replacement of the bulkhead and pier at the recently purchased Eldredge Trap Dock.
The town intends to seek Seaport Economic Council grants for many of the projects, Natural Resources Department Director Robert Duncanson told selectmen last week. Last year the council provided $1 million for replacement of the bulkhead and other work at Old Mill Boatyard, a project that's been ongoing this winter.
“We are going to continue to shake that tree and hope to get that kind of funding for a lot of these projects,” Duncanson said.
Along with the $2.4 million in fish pier work, voters at the May annual town meeting will be asked to appropriate $100,000 for final design and permitting to replace the timber bulkhead and concrete launching ramp at the Ryder's Cove town landing. The estimated $600,000 for construction will be sought in fiscal 2019.
The ramp is nearly 20 years old and beginning to show signs of deterioration, Duncanson said, and the 120-foot-long bulkhead, like the one at Old Mill Boatyard, is suffering from damage by marine borers. Composite material will be used instead of timber, just as is being done at Old Mill Boatyard, which Duncanson said has a 40-year lifespan, almost twice that of wood. Engineers will also look at the feasibility of adding a finger pier to the pier to improve ramp efficiency and provide dingy storage. Currently dinghies are stored along the beach adjacent to the landing, which is “not necessarily conducive to long-term stability of the beach,” Duncanson said.
As reconstituted under Governor Charlie Baker, the Seaport Economic Council has a stronger emphasis on projects with commercial uses, Duncanson said, which should put the Ryder's Cove project squarely in its sights. The landing is heavily used by commercial fishermen, especially bass fishermen.
Because many of those bass fishermen come from off-Cape and “depend almost exclusively” on the landing to access fishing grounds due east of town, they can be a source of “valuable pressure” to help the town obtain Seaport funding, said Selectman Seth Taylor.
The final project at this year's town meeting is continued site development at the town-owned 90 Bridge St. property. A previously funded site assessment is due to be completed this spring, Duncanson said, and the $90,000 being sought in May will cover detailed engineering, design and permitting of the final plan for the property. The five-year plan carries an estimated $2 million for site improvements in fiscal 2020, which includes relocation of the town's shellfish upwelling system from Old Mill Boatyard to the Bridge Street property; that will also be eligible for Seaport Economic Council funding, he said. The shellfish and coastal resources departments are also seeking funding to relocate the upweller from the Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is aimed at optimizing economic benefits by building and maintaining sustainable fisheries and maintain viable working waterfronts, according to its website. One of the program's chief priorities is marine aquaculture.
Altogether, the projects on the five-year waterfront capital plan total $13,220,000, with $2,740,000 of that being sought in separate articles in this May's annual town meeting.
Future projects include $1.5 million to nourish beaches along Nantucket Sound. The town has done short-term beach building projects along its south coast, Duncanson said, under a comprehensive dredging permit, using sand from Mill Creek and the Stage Harbor entrance channel. But pumping sand from those locations and expensive, and officials are investigating the idea of off-shore “mining” of sand for a large-scale nourishment project. That would require additional permitting, Duncanson said.
There's been some erosion this winter, he added, particularly near the Cockle Cove parking lot, but the beach may build up again in the spring and summer. Taylor asked about the possibility of building bulkheads along the shore to protect beach parking lots. Bulkheads would be difficult to permit and are discouraged by state regulators, Duncanson said, and would not work environmentally.
“Just putting a structure in, you'll end up with no beach,” he said. “We've seen that time and time again in Chatham.”
A request for proposals for engineering work on preliminary designs for the Eldredge pier is being prepared right now, Duncanson said, and the plan includes a $2 million placeholder in fiscal 2019 for construction. Officials are still brainstorming integration of the facility with the adjacent Old Mill Boatyard, and are in talks with the Stage Harbor Yacht Club, which owns the pier immediately to the west, about working together to replace both aging piers and bulkheads.
That project may also qualify for Seaport Economic Council funding, and has also been mentioned as an alternative commercial offloading facility for the town's fishing fleet, should the fish pier become inaccessible due to changing conditions in Chatham Harbor. Chairman of Selectmen Jeffrey Dykens said he's “extremely concerned” about the changes to the outer beach and South Beach (see separate story, page 7), and said officials need to consider the efficacy of making major improvements at the fish pier given the dynamic nature of the area.
“We have no clue what's going on there,” he said of the changing conditions. “To dump five million bucks into the fish pier, I think we need to be very judicious and cautious when we look at what we're doing there.”
Additional waterfront projects include $75,000 in fiscal 2019 to replace the decking on the Little Mill Pond town pier; $100,000 in fiscal 2020 for rest rooms at the Ryder's Cove town landing; $80,000 for an access platform and stairs at Old Mill Boatyard, elements dropped from the current project due to costs; $25,000 for a walkway along the Barn Hill town landing boat ramp in fiscal 2021; $125,000 for erosion protection at the Scatteree town landing in fiscal 2021; and $500,000 to replacement Crow's Pond town landing boat ramp in fiscal 2022.
Dykens acknowledged that the gross number in the five-year plan is “daunting” and said waterways officials have a difficult task ahead in prioritizing the spending.
Selectmen were scheduled to continue discussions about the waterfront improvement spending articles proposed for the upcoming annual town meeting, including funding sources, at meetings this Tuesday and Wednesday.