Selectmen May Seek $13 Million For Waterfront Project In May

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Commercial fishing and shellfishing , Waterways

Improvements to the town-owned property at 90 Bridge St. are among the $13 million in waterfront infrastructure projects selectmen are considering grouping into a single appropriation article for this May's annual town meeting. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – Given the uncertainty about the future of the main navigation channel into Chatham Harbor, selectmen are raising questions about sinking millions into renovations of the municipal fish pier and are looking for more flexibility in directing resources to Stage Harbor as an alternative for the town's commercial fishing fleet.

Rather than move ahead with just some of the elements of a five-year waterfront infrastructure capital improvement program, selectmen are considering seeking the entire $13 million cost of the five-year plan this year in order to put the money where conditions dictate it is most needed.

“It's becoming more and more evident that we may have to move on the Eldredge pier sooner than we anticipated,” Chairman of Selectmen Jeffrey Dykens said, referring to the Eldredge trap dock in Stage Harbor which the town purchased last year. The facility is seen as a possible alternative to the fish pier for commercial fishing boats to use to offload their catch. The five-year capital plan includes $2 million for improvements to the Eldredge pier in fiscal 2019; $2.4 million is included in the upcoming year's spending plan to replace the south jog bulkhead at the fish pier.

While nobody is talking about abandoning the fish pier, having a single authorization cover all of the waterfront projects in the capital plan would provide flexibility to transfer the funds between project as needs arise.

“It could happen very fast,” Director of Natural Resources Robert Duncanson said of the need to shift the fish fleet from Aunt Lydia's Cove to Stage Harbor. “Having that flexibility for us would make life a lot easier.”

Town officials are already laying the groundwork for the shift. A waterways bylaw change going before town meeting in May would redesignate an area in Stage Harbor for deep-water moorings, specifically for use by commercial fishermen.

Erosion of South Beach and the potential for another inlet to form just south of Lighthouse Beach has led to concern that the already deteriorating Chatham Harbor entrance channel could become more clogged with shoals and lead to fishing boats, especially those with deeper drafts, being unable to reach the fish pier.

“Things can change very quickly, as we've noted in the last month or two,” said Dykens, referring to the conditions in the channel that have led to several accidents since the fall, including blown out windscreens and a boat getting swamped and tossing its occupants in the water. “There are too many moving parts not to have the flexibility with financing.”

Officials had proposed going forward this May with funding for the fish pier bulkhead replacement, $100,000 for design plans for improvements at the Ryder's Cove town landing and $90,000 for engineering and design of improvements at the 90 Bridge St. property. That was to be followed by $3.8 million in fiscal 2019 for the Eldredge pier, town landing improvements and more upgrades to the fish pier; $3.6 million in fiscal 2020 for more fish pier improvements, construction of improvements at Ryder's Cove and additional upgrades at Old Mill Boatyard; $550,000 in fiscal 2021 for town landing improvements; and $2.4 million in fiscal 2022 for final upgrades to the fish pier, a new ramp at Crow's Pond and beach nourishment along Nantucket Sound.

“It looks to me like we're going to be spending a lot on the waterfront,” Dykens commented.

If all the items are rolled into one appropriation, which would require bonding authorization through a ballot question, Selectman Dean Nicastro asked if selectmen would have a say as to when the funds were spent and on what projects. Town Manager Jill Goldsmith said when a similar appropriation was made for road and sidewalk improvement, separate projects did not come back to selectmen. But the waterfront projects are “too big of an issue not to come back to the board,” she said.

“We need to be involved because of the changing nature” of the situation, Dykens said.

Duncanson noted that a lot of the projects are conceptual at this time and require further refining, and the selectmen could be kept up to speed as the process moves along. Some, like the fish pier, Ryder's Cove and Bridge Street property, are multi-year projects, he noted.

“We fully intend to bring those to you guys and get your buy in, along with” waterways-related advisory boards in town, Duncanson said.

Officials will also seek grants from the state Seaport Economic Council and other agencies to try to supplement town funding, he added.

Selectman Seth Taylor asked that the projects be prioritized and examined to determine if savings could be realized by doing some at the same time. He asked that the beach nourishment project be left out because it is not an infrastructure project like the others. Dykens agreed, saying that the mining of sand offshore to bolster Nantucket Sound beaches is “fraught with regulatory miasma.”

Selectmen asked Duncanson to return to their March 14 meeting with a year-by-year sequencing of the projects in the five-year waterfront capital plan. The board also asked for a draft town meeting article grouping the projects into a single $13 million funding request.

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