Orientation Of New Upweller Remains Undecided And Contentious

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Commercial fishing and shellfishing , Shellfishing , Waterways

A computer-generated view of the proposed upweller from the Mitchell River bridge. This view has the upweller at a 90-degree angle to the bridge, which a number of members of town waterways committees preferred during a recent meeting because it provides a wider view of Stage Harbor than the previous proposal, in which the building was parallel to the bridge.

CHATHAM – There's no disagreement about the need for a new upweller to grow out quahog and other shellfish seed vital to the town's commercial shellfishing industry, which is the most valuable wild shellfishery in the state, according to Shellfish Constable Renee Gagne. And the small town-owned parcel on Bridge Street adjacent to the Mitchell River appears to be the best spot for a new building to replacing the aging upweller at Old Mill Boatyard.

But exactly how that building should be oriented on the lot remains undecided and somewhat contentious.

Last November selectmen rejected a $4 million plan that placed the 32-by-56-foot building over the water parallel with the historic Mitchell River bridge. The board asked the three waterways-related committees that developed the plan – the waterways advisory committee, south coastal harbor management committee and shellfish advisory committee – to scale back the project after expressing concern for both the size and cost, as well as hearing from residents who felt the proposed building overwhelmed the historic bridge.

The committees met Oct. 18 four additional alternatives for placement of the upweller on the property. David Anderson of consultant Stantec, Inc. showed computer renderings of views of the building at a 50 degree angle from Bridge Street; at a 90-degree angle from the road; with the upweller completely on land; and moved to the west side of the property, away from the road.

A majority of the committee members appeared to prefer the 90-degree alternative, which affords a more expansive view of Stage Harbor from the bridge. One of the complaints about the original plan was that placing the upweller parallel to the road obscured and view and overwhelmed the historic drawbridge. At 90-degrees, the upweller would be not as “in your face” as other options, noted shellfish advisory committee member David Likos.

But committee members also focused on two other possibilities. Shellfish Advisory Committee Chairman Jamie Bassett suggested shifting the original orientation to the west so that it was half on the land and half over the water. Anderson agreed to develop conceptual plans for that configuration that committee members can view when they next meet on Nov. 15.

However, committee members weren't ready to give up on the initial plan. Director of Natural Resources Dr. Robert Duncanson said it was within the committees' prerogative to recommend to selectmen that the original plan was the most appropriate. Waterways advisory committee member Ed Conway said that plan was chosen because it maximized the use of the small parcel.

“It's the best use of the property,” he said.

Committee members will have to be prepared to deal with those who rejected that plan, Duncanson noted. Waterways committee member John Huether said a major reason the groups were reexamining the plan was because of aesthetic issues raised by a small group of residents, who didn't bother to attend any of the joint meetings to discuss the proposal.

“This is insane,” he said.

Under the 90- and 50-degree configurations, most of the rest of the project stays pretty much the same as the initial plan, with the upweller on pilings surrounded by a handicap-accessible observation deck with piers and floats off of it for small boats to dock. A new bulkhead will be built, allowing dredging the shallow water seaward of the parcel as well as to accommodate the upweller pumps. Various pier and dock facilities would change depending on the configuration.

Placing the upweller on the lot would severely limit parking, cutting the number of spaces from nearly a dozen to six, including one handicap spot.

“I think that severely compromises the whole project,” Harbormaster Stuart Smith said of the option. Duncanson added that the property was never envisioned to be able to accommodate all of the parking necessary for the various uses envisioned. “Obviously the more parking we can get the better,” he said.

Putting the building on land would, however, be less expensive than building it on pilings over the water. Duncanson said that would cut the total cost of the project by $500,000.

The group has also to decide if the project should be done in phases or all at once. The bulkhead, expected to cost about $680,000, would be the first step however the project is approached, said Duncanson, but it would make sense to build the upweller at the same time since the same sort of equipment would be needed for both. Smith said he has concerns about the project being done in phases, since the second phase often doesn't happen.

At the next joint meeting, the committees will look at the previous alternatives as well as the new information Anderson will put together. Duncanson said he'd also have more refined cost estimates then, so the groups can make a final referral to the board of selectmen.