Trap Dock, Yacht Club Pier Won't Be Rebuilt Together

By: Tim Wood

The town-owned trap dock (center) is flanked by the dock owned by Stage Harbor Yacht Club (left) and Old Mill Boat Yard, where the town harbormaster’s office is located (out of view, on right). COURTESY FRANK MESSINA

CHATHAM – The town-owned Eldredge trap dock and the Stage Harbor Yacht Club pier, which have existed side by side for years, will be rebuilt separately and not as a single unit.

Town and Yacht Club officials had held discussions aiming at reducing costs by reconstructing the two adjacent piers in tandem rather than as separate projects. But after seeing preliminary cost estimates for the town-proposed design, which replaced the existing wooden structures with reinforced concrete and steel, Yacht Club officials got their own estimates and decided to pursue a replacement structure using wood instead.

“It's been tried and true since 1957, when the pier went it,” said Commodore Drew Carlson. Rather than paying half of the estimated $3.5 million based on town's plan to replace both docks, the club received a bid that was about 40 percent lower to rebuild its pier with wood.

Collaboration with the town remains possible and even desirable, Carlson said, particularly around demolition and perhaps even some aspects of construction.

“We're all working very hard behind the scenes,” said the club's sailing school president David Leary. “We're on the same page regarding that.”

The town is soliciting engineering proposals to take design concepts for the trap dock to the permit level of detail, Director of Natural Resources Robert Duncanson said. The town remains in contact with Yacht Club officials, he told members of the Aunt Lydia's Cove committee Nov. 7.

“There are still things that we will have to work out with them,” he said. But at this point there will not be one consolidated plan, as previously envisioned. “We're going to build our pier, they're going to be their pier.”

The town purchased the trap dock from the Eldredge family in 2016 for $1.5 million. The town received a $150,000 Massachusetts Seaport Council grant to fund the plans and designs and expects a $1 million construction grant, Duncanson said. Preliminary cost estimates for the trap dock run about $1.4 million, he said; construction funding will also come from the $11.3 million waterfront infrastructure bond approved by voters.

Used for decades as a commercial offloading pier, the trap dock is envisioned to continue with that us, with the Stage Harbor waterfront facility serving as an alternative to the municipal fish pier in Chatham Harbor for the town's commercial fishing fleet.

Fishermen continue to use the trap dock under a lease arrangement with the Eldredges, but the pier is in poor condition. Aunt Lydia's Cove committee member Jared Bennett said he cringes whenever his boat bumps the pier.

“We're going to rebuild this pier, no question,” Duncanson said. “I fear every time there's a heavy wind that it's going to fall down.”

Cove committee chairman Douglas Feeney questioned whether having just the trap dock available will be enough for the fleet in the future. “We've got to think about the people after us. This is not going to work the way it is now,” he said.

The town's plans call for concrete and steel structure much like those built at the town-owned Old Mill Boatyard to immediately to the east. The proposed concrete deck will support trucks from fish vendors to better facilitate offloading, and several hoists will likely be installed, although the exact locations will be determined as the plans are refined, Duncanson said.

Combing the trap dock and Yacht Club properties would provide more space for commercial fishermen to offload, Feeney said. He's brought up the idea of the town purchasing the Yacht Club property, which the club bought in 2006, and did not want to support the trap dock plan until the idea is explored.

“I'm seeing infrastructure fall everywhere around commercial fishing industries,” Feeney said. “Here's another one.”

The trap dock was never meant as a substitute for the fish pier, Duncanson said, but was seen as providing relief when navigation conditions make it difficult for vessels to access Chatham Harbor.

“I understand that,” Feeney said, “but it might have to be.”

Both the Yacht Club and town plan to rebuild their respective piers, as well as support buildings, within the existing footprint so as not to trigger new permitting requirements, which would delay the work. Leary said the goal is to begin work next fall or winter.

“Much of it just depends on how much progress we all make around design and engineering and various permitting processes, which are hard to control,” he said. “We're all moving diligently.”

Carlson said the property is not for sale. There has been talk about the town leasing the club pier in the offseason, something the club is open to considering, he said.

Feeney suggested delaying the trap dock planning for three months to give officials time to hold additional discussions with the Yacht Club. No vote was taken last week; instead, the committee asked Duncanson to look into the impact of a three-month delay, and will meet Nov. 19 to take up the matter again.

The trap dock and the Yacht Club facilities serve different purposes, Carlson pointed out. “The town is trying to solve a problem here with purchasing and rebuilding the pier. We're not trying to solve the same problem.”

Both fishing and sailing have co-existed in Stage Harbor since the club was founded in 1932, he said. “We look forward to that continuing.”