Fish Pier Deck Upgrade Gets Final Approval

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Commercial fishing and shellfishing , Waterways

The fish pier observation deck was closed briefly last September after a forklift hit a support column. Removing the supports from the packing area is one of the ways that a new deck will be safer, officials say. FILE PHOTO

$1.6 Million Project To Be Completed By Summer

CHATHAM – Town officials were scheduled to meet earlier this week with engineers and the contractor hired to build a new observation deck at the fish pier, following final approval of the project by the zoning board of appeals last week.

The board unanimously approved the $1.6 million project, which will result in a more larger, more stable deck that meets access codes.

“It's one of the major tourist destinations in Chatham in the summertime,” said Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson. “Upwards of 3,000 people a day conceivably in July and August are visiting that area.”

The existing deck is in “degraded condition,” he said, has only one access and is not handicap accessible. Its capacity is currently limited to 100 people. It is on the east side above the fish packing building, to which it is tied through a ledger board system, and it puts an additional wind load on the building during storms. When the packing building bulkhead was expended to the east, the deck was not enlarged, resulting in a number of support columns ending up in the middle of the fish packing work area where machinery like forklifts operate.

“So they're prone to getting hit,” Duncanson said of the columns. One such incident closed the deck to public use late last summer.

“Obviously that results in damage to those supports and could, if it occurred at the wrong time when the deck had a large number of people on it, result in a very unfortunate situation,” he said. In addition, the deck was built with pressure-treated wood that Duncanson said hasn't held up well in the marine environment.

The new deck will be larger, expanding to the east so that support columns rest on the edge of the caplog, removing them from the work area, which will improve safety and free up space on the fish packing floor, Duncanson said. The deck will also be expanded on the south side, where a second set of stairs will be added as an emergency exit, to include a gate and panic bar.

The main access stairs will continue to be on the north side of the building, where there will also be a single-story elevator to allow access by the disabled. A handicap parking space will also be moved closer to the deck, he said.

The new deck will not be tied in to the building, which will allow it to move independently during high wind and storms. Much of the deck will be constructed of composite material which should be longer lasting than wood. The tongue-and-groove composite material will also eliminate another problem. “Dust and dirt is basically raining down on fish that may be in that area waiting to go inside the packing building,” Duncanson explained, creating a potential health issue.

The plan was developed in conjunction with the committee for the disabled, the Aunt Lydia's Cove committee, waterways advisory committee and board of selectmen, he said. The conservation commission ruled that a notice of intent was not necessary because the project involved replacing an existing structure, he added.

Zoning board members saw the project as a significant improvement, but Dennis Sullivan asked with the changes to access to the harbor, what will happen if the fishing fleet can no longer access the fish pier.

Duncanson said the fleet is currently working with the tides to access the harbor from the North Inlet, and dredging of that channel remains under consideration.

“We are going to try to do everything realistic within our powers and within the financial resources of the town to maintain access to the fish pier for the fleet, but on the same token we are also working on some improvements in the Stage Harbor system,” including upgrading the Eldredge trap dock, which the town purchased in 2016. Those facilities will never replace the municipal pier in Aunt Lydia's Cove, but it could provide an alternative if larger boats can't get there.

“We don't know from one day to the next what Mother Nature's going to throw at us, but we fully intend to try to keep the pier open as long as possible,” Duncanson said.

After Tuesday's meeting with the engineer and contractor Sciaba Construction Corp. of Walpole, officials will have a better idea of when construction will begin, Duncanson said. The contract calls for the work to be completed by or before May 15, in time for the summer tourist season, which he acknowledged was an aggressive schedule.

“We want to have everything done once the summer starts, the fleet comes back and the tourists start arriving,” he said. “So it's a very aggressive schedule. The contractor's indicated they should be able to meet it, so we're holding them to that.”

“It's going to accomplish a lot,” zoning board member David Veach said of the new deck. “It's too bad you couldn't magically find a way to increase parking at the same time.”