CHATHAM – Dredging of the entrance channel to Outermost Harbor Marine wound up this week, and whether the navigation channel remains clear will depend in large part on this winter's weather.
The Little Beach marine purchased its own small dredge to clear the sand, which drifts southward from Lighthouse Beach and North Beach Island. The marina has a maintenance permit to keep the channel open, said owner Farrell Kahn.
“It's a lot of sand,” he said of the material removed from the channel. The sand was used to replenish eroded beaches at the nearby Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge on Morris Island and will also be placed on beaches owned the Quitnessett Association, the Morris Island homeowners' group.
The dredge has been working from early morning until dark since mid December. The work had to be completed by Jan. 15, when an annual dredging prohibition for protection of winter flounder goes into effect. The channel has a permitted depth of eight feet and a width of 20 feet.
Changes to the outer beach – including the creation of the so-called Fool's Cut in 2017 and the severe lowering of South Beach by extensive washovers – has altered the inner shoreline south of Lighthouse Beach. Last winter, a number of storms severely eroded beaches and created extensive shoaling in the area.
So far it's been a mild winter, Kahn noted; only one high tide has come up to a plastic “Muscle Wall” placed around the marina's office building to keep out flood waters. But, he added, “one nor'easter could change it.”
“I think everyone is going into this wide-eyed in that the likelihood of [dredging] lasting the rest of the winter and spring is uncertain,” said Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon. It remains to be seen if more dredging can be done in the spring due to prohibitions because of horseshoe crab spawning. Those dredging prohibitions were designed for embayment areas, he added, and may not be relevant for areas of Chatham Harbor, including Outermost, so there may be an effort to seek state review of specific locations to allow dredging during the usual closure periods.
“The town faces similar issues with some of our locations,” Keon said.
Whether the town will again try to dredge areas around the North Cut is uncertain at this time, he said. Last year the town received emergency permission to remove shoaling on the western side of the inlet, but weather delays forced the Barnstable County dredging program to cancel the project.
“Things are changing so rapidly out there, we plan to have additional discussions” about whether to attempt dredging again, Keon said.
Unfortunately, the dredging at Outermost Marine won't benefit the nearby Little Beach shoreline. While the Little Beach Association has retained Horsley Witten of Sandwich to design and permit a protective dune along the vulnerable shorefront, permits are not likely to be in hand until June, said association president Bill Hoffman.
Horsley Witten staff were expected to begin data collection and surveying work this week, and could have information available to apply for grant money through the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency in April, he added.