ORLEANS — By a margin of 2,726 to 1,048, voters Tuesday approved borrowing $1.1 million for an early stage of the Nauset Beach Retreat Master Plan, with the remaining $100,000 to come from the town's free cash.
The emphatic endorsement means that the town will enhance the dune protecting its buildings and parking lot from the Atlantic Ocean, but it will do little to reduce the swirl of controversy over whether the sand should be pumped from the clogged Nauset Estuary rather than purchased elsewhere and trucked into town.
“Several town meetings ago, when I was on the finance committee,” George Malloy told town meeting Oct. 29, “fishermen made a proposal to buy a dredge for a million dollars. We could have all the sand that this town needs had we spent that million dollars on that dredge. By spending this $1.2 million, we could lose all that in a storm. This town is spending a lot of money. Before you vote yes, think about what's coming up ahead.”
“Yes, we'd like to get dredged sand and not buy it from off-Cape,” Selectman Mark Mathison replied. “We don't have the ability to do that yet. We're working very hard to get the permit necessary to get that. Until that's in place, we need do something to protect what we have.” He was backed up by Natural Resources Manager Nate Sears, who said, “This will hopefully slow down the rate of erosion so we can strengthen our long-term plan. We're either going to feed the ocean asphalt this winter or feed it some sand.”
Last night (Nov. 7), the board of selectmen planned to discuss dredging issues, including the purchase of a town dredge, and to review a draft charge for a dredging steering committee. The meeting packet for members was stuffed with information, including a Nauset Estuary dredging progress report from consultant Leslie Fields of Woods Hole Group, a copy of Edgartown's dredge advisory committee master plan (the town owns a dredge), and a draft charge for the proposed Orleans dredge advisory committee.
The charge asks the Orleans advisory committee to develop “a town-wide dredging improvement and maintenance plan that will promote improved navigation, boater safety, water quality and protection of natural resources in our saltwater estuaries and fresh water ponds.” Membership would include one designee each from the conservation commission, shellfish and waterways improvement advisory committee, and marine and fresh water quality committee, plus two members at large from the fishing and boating communities.
The first task listed for the committee is to work with an outside consultant to “undertake a cost/benefit analysis to evaluate the potential of the town purchasing and maintaining its own dredge to meet the current and future needs in Nauset Estuary, Rock Harbor and Pleasant Bay.” Others include working with consultants on the Nauset Estuary dredging project, on the feasibility of maintaining dredged areas in Pleasant Bay, and on dredging of fresh water ponds. The committee would collaborate with Eastham on a joint management plan for dredging Rock Harbor.
The selectmen themselves were to talk about a meeting with the Eastham board about the latter's reluctance to go forward with the Nauset Estuary project. In an Oct. 26 reply to Orleans Town Administrator John Kelly, Eastham Town Administrator Jacqueline Beebe wrote, “Yes, the board is hesitating... The obvious issue for Eastham (and Orleans) is that our board does not have a consensus that we want to proceed with the dredging, and has some questions it wants answered, re: impacts to our portions of the estuary, the barrier dune and the adjacent marsh. The point of the [recent and favorable Eastham] town meeting vote was to answer some of these questions for Eastham, so we could make a more informed decision as to whether to proceed or not.
“To that end, they would prefer to have a separate relationship/contract with the Woods Hole Group, not just be charged for half of what Orleans has already decided to do. I understand that this is frustrating, but I think it is a result of a lack of process between the two boards around this project and the two towns being in different places around the project.”
Beebe wrote that she would consult with her board on Oct. 29 about moving forward with a portion of the next phase. An emailed request for information about that meeting sent Monday night had not been answered by deadline Tuesday afternoon.