Town Moving Forward With Joint Eldredge-Yacht Club Dock Project

By: Tim Wood

The Stage Harbor Yacht Club dock in the foreground could be included with plans to renovate the Eldredge trap dock, immediately to the east, which is owned by the town. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – When the town purchased the Eldredge trap dock on Stage Harbor for $1.5 million in 2016, it was with the understanding that at some point, the commercial facility would be upgraded at a significant cost. The work was included as one of several projects to be funded over the next five years through an $11.3 million bond issue approved by voters this past May.

Officials also realized that it would make sense – and potentially save money – to include in the project the Stage Harbor Yacht Club dock, immediately to the west of the Eldredge pier. Both are really “one integral unit,” said Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson.

“Doing something just on the Eldredge and not doing something next door is going to make both our projects less viable,” he said.

Both docks are also in dire need of upgrading.

“We're worried about that pier surviving tomorrow,” Duncanson said of the Eldredge dock.

Last week the town signed a $38,300 contract for an assessment of both piers with Orleans-based Coastal Engineering. The yacht club has provided the town with a gift of $11,550 to cover its share of the assessment, Duncanson said, with the town's portion coming from $200,000 that was included in the funds appropriated for the purchase of the trap dock.

Because of the inclusion of the privately owned yacht club property, the process is “more complicated” than usual, he said. The town can't spend taxpayer money on any work related to the yacht club property, so the details must be carefully segregated. The club's gift of its share of the funds will allow the engineers to begin the work as soon as possible.

“We all want to get it moving,” he said of the assessment.

Officials envision a renovated Eldredge trap dock, possibly in conjunction with the yacht club dock – itself a former commercial offloading facility – as an alternative offloading location for the town's commercial fishing fleet in the event the municipal fish pier in Aunt Lydia's Cove becomes inaccessible. Both the Eldredge dock and the yacht club facility have for years been used by commercial fishing boats; the Eldredge family continues to use the trap dock for its weir fishing operation under a five-year lease with the town. The yacht club dock has seen limited commercial use since it was purchased by Stage Harbor Enterprises for $1.7 in 2006. Prior to that it was chiefly a commercial pier.

Duncanson said yacht club officials raised the possibility of leasing their facility to the town so it could be operated in conjunction with the Eldredge dock. “That theoretically makes things easier to do,” he said of what may ultimately be a joint construction project. One option may be for the yacht club to have use of the pier during the summer, when it runs its sailing programs, while the town makes use of the facility during the rest of the year. While the concept raised, there have been no substantive discussions on a lease, he added.

During a Sept. 14 discussion, members of the waterways advisory committee expressed a desire to make the project a priority, including seeking a grant from the state Seaport Economic Council, which contributed $1 million to the recent bulkhead and dock upgrades at neighboring Old Mill Boatyard. Duncanson said the project will have priority over others, such as waterfront upgrades at 90 Bridge St., and Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon said a draft Seaport Council grant proposal is already completed.

The waterfront infrastructure bond approved in May allows the town to move quickly on projects such as this, Duncanson said. Once a project such as this is ready to go, further town meeting authorization isn't necessary, although he said that the selectmen's OK will be sought before moving forward.

Coastal Engineer's assessment will look at the condition of both facilities, whether one large dock would be more efficacious than the two that currently exist, and how the facility could work best for fishermen, the yacht club and the public. The assessment has a March deadline. Once decisions are made based on the report. Final engineering and permitting would then take about 18 months. Construction would likely take one season. Completion of the project in less than three years would be optimistic, Duncanson said.

The five-year waterfront infrastructure capital program estimated upgrades to the Eldredge pier at $2 million, funded through the bond.

Harbormaster Stuart Smith said the trap dock-yacht club work is “kind of a straightforward project” in terms of infrastructure, but there will be some decisions to be made, such as mechanical equipment and whether to maintain a narrow gap between the two docks or fill across it. A decision must also be made about whether to retain the building on the yacht club parcel, which Smith said are of little value. However, if they are removed, “you'll never get it back. Just be sure we don't need it.”

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