Minister’s Point Landowner Sues Conservation Commission

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Erosion , Dredging

The failed revetment at the Milden property on Minister’s Point. COURTESY PHOTO

Minister’s Point resident Gerald Milden has filed suit in Barnstable Superior Court against the town of Chatham and its conservation commission, claiming it wrongly permitted a potential future dredging project near the North Inlet, where it had issued an emergency permit last year.

The suit comes despite the fact that the project was never carried out, and town officials have not yet decided whether to dredge that area next fall. Milden claims the litigation aims to “stop the deceitful methods the town routinely uses to acquire permits.”

The complaint, filed Jan. 11, alleges that the conservation commission was wrong in issuing an order of conditions in December because it did not notify abutters of the hearing; in this case, the nearest abutters are several property owners on North Beach Island.

With the north cut now the dominant inlet to Chatham Harbor, it provides important access for the local fishing fleet, the Coast Guard and other mariners. Shoaling of a narrow passageway just inside the inlet made it dangerous for vessels to use the channel, prompting the conservation commission and the board of selectmen to favor the issuance of an emergency dredging permit last summer.

At the time, Milden claimed that the damage done to his property’s rock revetment during a series of coastal storms last spring was the result of earlier dredging the town had carried out near Aunt Lydia’s Cove. That work created what Milden called a “surge current” that undermined his revetment. Milden threatened to sue to stop the North Inlet dredging.

Ultimately, it was bad weather that prompted the county dredge crew to cancel the emergency dredging, which was to have taken place in a location exposed to easterly winds. At the time, Chatham Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon said the town would continue to examine short-term and long-term dredging needs in the area, and said he would file paperwork to make sure that the emergency dredging area will retain its permits into 2019. The goal, he said, would be to find alternative places to dredge that might provide a harbor access channel with more longevity.

The conservation commission issued its order of conditions in December, altering several dredging areas in its existing comprehensive dredge permit, and including the “North Harbor Inlet Channel.” But town officials have said any decision about where to actually dredge would have to take place after the passage of coastal storms over the winter that could re-shuffle the configuration of sand bars in the harbor.

While he had no comment on the suit, Chatham Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson said the town would be waiting until closer to the boating season this summer before evaluating whether dredging would be necessary and to what extent.

Milden’s suit not only alleges that the town didn’t properly consider the potential impacts that dredging projects might have on shoreline properties, but that the town should have referred the application to the Cape Cod Commission as a Development of Regional Impact.

The complaint seeks to have the court nullify the dredge permit, to have the town reimburse Milden for his legal fees and other expenses, and to provide other relief as the court deems appropriate. The suit does not seek other monetary damages.

In a four-page memorandum to The Chronicle, Milden further alleges a wide-scale government cover-up.

“Contrary to the belief the North Beach inlet dredging was halted solely because of rough seas, we contend one or more of the county, state and federal agencies, which originally approved the undertaking, decided at the last minute to quietly withdraw their involvement after it was brought to their attention the town had improperly sought to permit the project and falsified information on official government documents. Of course all involved will deny this,” he wrote.

Milden claims “that senior Chatham bureaucrats colluded with elected officials and members of the Conservation Commission to try and hide the disastrous and dangerous aftermath of the poorly planned and executed April 2017 dredging of Aunt Lydia’s Cove. The same individuals are now trying to undo a neighborhood initiative by North Chatham residents to halt the potentially harmful dredging of the North Beach inlet. Stakeholders are convinced the latter project will accelerate erosion of the barrier island and the mainland waterfront.”

This article has been changed to correct errors.