Towns Mull Dredge Purchase

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Waterways , Dredging

The Barnstable County dredge off Fox Hill late last year. FILE PHOTO

Costs, Benefits Of Owning Equipment Locally Examined

During the past few weeks, officials in both Chatham and Orleans have raised the prospect of their respective towns purchasing a dredge. But with Barnstable County now owning and operating two dredges, does it make sense, economically or otherwise, for individual towns to buy what is an expensive and high-maintenance piece of equipment?

“It does not,” said Barnstable County Administrator Jack Yunits Jr.

The expenses are eye-opening: a 14-inch hydraulic dredge alone costs about $1.5 million, and once all the additional equipment needed to operate is added, the cost can soar to almost $3.5 million.

“We can't just buy a dredge,” said Chatham Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon. “Buying a dredge gets you the part that digs and nothing else. You need a lot of other aspects to make that into a dredge program,” including piping, support vessels and trucks.

And then there's insurance, debt service, ongoing maintenance and the cost of a crew.

“The biggest expense you have is to staff it,” Yunits said. A qualified dredge crew costs $750,000 a year, “minimum,” he said. Annual operating and maintenance expenses can exceed $1.5 million.

Orleans is looking at ongoing maintenance of the Nauset Inlet, while Chatham has a host of dredging needs. Emergency dredging of the North Cut was scuttled last month after delays caused by breakdowns of the county dredge, pushing the work into the early fall when conditions on the water made it too dangerous to work. But the dredge just moved over to another, already scheduled project off Fox Hill. Chatham also has regular dredging projects in Aunt Lydia's Cove and Stage Harbor, and a long-term plan for periodic dredging of the Stage Harbor channel and the Morris Island cut area will begin this winter, with the chief objective of building up Nantucket Sound beaches.

Town meeting appropriated $450,000 for that project this year and will be asked for another $300,000 next year, according to Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon. The state's 2018 Navigational Dredging Pilot Program recently awarded the town a $350,000 grant which will offset those costs.

Studies have projected the need for 30,000 cubic yards of sand every five years to maintain Cockle Cove Beach – which had eroded to the parking lot earlier this year before dredging, by the county, in Mill Creek supplied sand to build up the beach by mid summer – and another 15,000 cubic yards to keep Harding's Beach stable.

“We're losing our beaches,” Harbormaster Stuart Smith told the waterways advisory committee during a recent discussion about purchasing a dredge. “We need to be proactive. There are serious economic consequences.”

Having a dredge on hand, some committee members argued, would allow the town to not only keep up with shoaling of navigation channels and emergency dredging – like that needed at the North Cut – but would ensure a steady supply of sand to building up eroding beaches.

Dredging is only part of the equation, Keon said. The chief source of sand is shoaling in the Morris Island cut and the Stage Harbor channel. To get it to beaches where it is needed can require up to 12,000 feet of piping, as well as the ability to move and store the pipe.

“There are a lot of variable costs that tie into this stuff,” Yunits said.

He added that the dredge can only work where permits are in place – obtaining them is the town's responsibility – and can be idle for months at a time due to weather conditions. Last winter the dredges could not work for weeks at a time due to the series of nor'easters that hit the region. “You still have to pay those people,” he said.

It works at the regional level, Yunits said, because revenue from dredging usually covers the approximately $1.8 million in annual expenses; if it doesn't, there's a reserve account to make up the difference. “There are so many variables in this business,” he commented. While the county dredges cannot do some jobs due to their size, they are capable of handling the dredging needs of most Cape towns, at a rate that is approximately half of what commercial dredges charge. Keon said the current rates are $9 per cubic yard, $13 per cubic yard if a booster pump is required.

Generally, the town has appropriated $75,000 to $100,000 annually for routine dredging, Keon said.

“There are other options,” Smith told the waterways committee, including leasing a dredge. Both Aunt Lydia's Cove and Stage Harbor are federal channels, but due to cutbacks at the federal level, the town has taken on dredging of those areas in recent years.

“Instead of us dredging it, we should be pushing the [Army Corps of Engineers] to do it,” he said.

To make a valid comparison of the costs of owning a dredge as opposed to other options, officials need to get more exact figures, committee member David Oppenheim said. Keon said he planned to talk to Jay Cashman, a local property owner who owns a large construction company in Quincy that does major dredging projects, to get commercial dredging costs. Given the scope of the topic, dredging will be the chief item on the agenda for the committee's next meeting later this month, said chairman Richard Hosmer.

With the state looking for towns to work together on a regional basis, Yunits said he did not think grant money would be available for the purchase of a dredge, meaning the towns would have to cover the full expense on their own.

“That's why we're here,” he said of the county, which is buying a sand bag machine that can be transported in a pickup truck and has the capacity to fill 500 sand bags an hour. Although it costs less than $10,000, there's no need for every town to have one, Yunits said, when it might only be needed every few years.


Dredge Costs

Estimated costs of purchasing a dredge:

14-inch hydraulic dredge - $1.5 million

Dredge pipe, about 12,000 feet - $500,000

Booster pump - $600,000

Booster pump crane barge - $200,000

Two support skiffs - $45,000

Boat trailers - $8,000

Tow boat - $250,000

Loader - $175,000

Support trucks - $70,000

Anchors and hardware - $10,000

Misc. hardware and tools - $50,000

Total: $3,408,000

Year-round staff of five: $700,000-$800,000 annually

Source: Chatham Coastal Resources Department

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