CHATHAM — With modest improvements at the boat ramp and a small park on the adjacent Marconi triangle, the latest $1.6 million plan for the Ryder’s Cove town landing has won preliminary approval from selectmen.
Unlike previous plans, which called for a new parking lot with an entry from Route 28 and other amenities, the current proposal focuses on repairing the deteriorating bulkhead, installing new floats, and replacing the crumbling boat ramp. Selectmen unanimously voted to support that concept, along with early plans for trail improvements at the town-owned triangle of land immediately to the west.
Despite its small size, Ryder’s Cove landing “is, by far, the most heavily used facility we have in Chatham,” Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon said. In the summer, a large number of recreational boaters use the ramp to access Pleasant Bay, Chatham Harbor and the Atlantic. When fishermen come to town during the brief striped bass season, “it becomes a – I don’t want to say ‘mad house’ – but it’s close to that,” he said.
Rebuilt in the mid 1980s, the timber bulkhead is beginning to fail, and the concrete boat ramp is near the end of its serviceable life, Keon said. The landing suffers from truck and trailer congestion because of a lack of space for maneuvering, and also has a shortage of room for dinghy storage. In addition, any improvements need to be planned to withstand regular inundations by storm surges or extreme tides. With input from the waterways advisory committee, Coastal Engineering assessed the site and made a series of recommendations.
Keon said the flooding cannot be prevented, but a new bulkhead made of fiber-reinforced plastic sheeting would be designed to last 75 years or longer. The engineers recommended replacing the float on the east side of the boat ramp with a larger one with additional tie-up space and installing a new float on the west side of the ramp to provide more space for dinghies.
The proposal also calls for the existing single-vehicle parking spaces off Ryder’s Cove Road to be deepened somewhat, allowing more room for vehicles to maneuver in the road. The existing portable toilet would be replaced by a free-standing composting rest room like the one at White Pond, and there would be some exterior lighting in the upper parking lot, as well as a freshwater hook-up for the town’s recycling power washer system for commercial fishing boats. The power outlets along the edge of the bulkhead would be raised to keep them away from flood tides, Keon said.
The full project is expected to cost around $1.64 million, with the replacement of the bulkhead, ramp and floats comprising about $1.3 million of that amount. But the ultimate scale of the project, and its cost, could be reduced based on the intensive regulatory review that will be required.
“We’re in the Pleasant Bay ACEC,” Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson told the selectmen Monday. Projects in Areas of Critical Environmental Concern undergo a significant amount of review, and one component of this plan could pose a challenge.
The finger floats just west of the boat ramp would partially cover a small portion of eelgrass beds, which provide key habitat for marine organisms.
“You don’t touch it unless you really, really have to,” Keon said. There is also concern that dinghies tied to the float could shade out eelgrass on the bottom. It is possible that this portion of the plan will need to be scaled back or removed altogether, he said.
Erosion poses another complication for the project. The coastal bank on the Marconi triangle land has washed away, leaving one of the historic wireless towers just seven feet from the edge of the bank. Engineers have recommended installing a small wall to stem the erosion, but the waterways committee recommended against funding the project through the town’s waterfront infrastructure bond, saying it would reduce funds available for waterways projects.
Selectmen voted unanimously to have staff proceed with the the preliminary design and permitting of the town landing improvements, which would likely cost around $30,000 and would take between nine and 12 months to complete. After that, a detailed plan will be brought to selectmen for consideration.
The board also voted unanimously to support a preliminary plan to improve the existing walking tail on the 3.7-acre Marconi triangle. Michele Moloney-Kitts, one of the proponents, said volunteers are seeking to install a bench at the current scenic overlook and to cut a new waterfront trail to the east connecting with a former Marconi tennis court and looping about 250 feet back to the parking lot. They are also proposing to install interpretive signs and to remove invasive plants.
Organizer Barbara Cotnam said they have already raised around $4,000 to support the park and will do additional fundraising. Depending on the scale of the final project, Cotnam said they might pursue Community Preservation Act funds to defray the cost of some of the work. The project has received strong support from neighbors, Moloney-Kitts added.
The triangle includes two buildings that are part of the original Marconi campus, the “power house,” which is used by the town for storage, and a small garage. The town has spent funds to preserve many of the buildings, which are part of the Marconi National Historic Register District.
“I think it’s important to take care of the land as well as the buildings,” Cotnam said. The parcel once included a park built for employees of the wireless station, as well as a tennis court. The current plan calls for the area to remain wooded, with the exception of a small grassy area near the former tennis court.
“This all looks very positive,” Selectmen Chairman Dean Nicastro said.
Email Alan Pollock at alan @capecodchronicle.com