Waiting On Eastham, Orleans Dredge Committee Considers Options

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Dredging

The Watermaster is an amphibious multipurpose dredge that the town could consider purchasing, according to dredge committee member Steve Smith.  COURTESY WATERMASTER

ORLEANS The town's dredge advisory committee reviewed dredging and disposal options for opening up Nauset Estuary April 8, but members started off focusing on what to expect in the way of support from neighboring Eastham.

The takeaway from the March 25 meeting of the two towns' boards, committee chairman Bill Amaru told his colleagues, “is that the town of Eastham is partly in and mostly out until they have their town meeting and... vote to go forward with additional funding.”

Orleans has earmarked funds for further study and permitting work by the Woods Hole Group, but the Eastham selectmen retained Provincetown's Center for Coastal Studies to perform an independent assessment of the proposed dredging. That report is due by April 15, and it's possible the two boards could have another joint session before Eastham's town meeting on May 6.

After the March 25 meeting, the Eastham board voted to put an article on the warrant for funding, but did not take a position at that time. The article asks that the town transfer the balance of the appropriation for the Rock Harbor dredge project, a total of $175,184.32, to pay for “permitting, engineering and study of the environmental impact” of Nauset Estuary dredging. A four-fifths majority vote is required. Recommendations from the selectmen and finance committee are expected at town meeting.

Dredge committee member Steve Smith advised patience. “Even though they could get a report back from Coastal Studies recommending against it, it's on the warrant and townspeople can still vote in favor,” he said. “That has happened in Eastham and Harwich and Orleans. In Eastham, two separate votes were 80 to 90 percent in favor (of looking into dredging). There's no need to jump off the bridge yet.”

The committee expressed its preference for disposal of dredged material at a site just north of the Nauset Beach parking lot. One concern is the need for a study of red tide cysts in the material; that study was planned for this winter but could not be organized by Woods Hole Group in a timely manner. Steve Smith noted the amount of dredged spoils likely to contain the cysts – 10,000 to 11,000 cubic yards – and contrasted that number with the 127,000 to be extracted elsewhere in the estuary.

“We're doing a red tide study about getting 11,000 over to the site when we already have 127,000 that can go there without red tide,” he said. “Let's just keep them within the area that already has red tide and put it up above the high water mark, and the stuff just goes away. It becomes beach nourishment and fortification of rock walls.” He suggested also that the anticipated permit would not require dredging all material at once.

Member John Quigley noted that Woods Hole Group had said individual permits would be needed for property owners to use the sand. Member Judith Bruce said that, assuming a high quality of sand, it could be used in the area for existing projects whose order of conditions from the conservation commission require yearly nourishment. She said the red tide study should still go forward, however, as “if the answer comes back that (the cysts) are dead in winter or by being exposed in summer, we can use this material.” Selectman Mark Mathison said the study will be done at the same time as other work and will not add more time to the process.

The committee has a big portfolio that also includes freshwater and saltwater pond dredging possibilities. Smith shared a video of a “truckable” amphibious multipurpose dredge, the Watermaster, that can do mechanical or hydraulic dredging. “It can get into a puddle,” he said. “It can do a herring run, clean out in front of a landing. The Barnstable County dredge isn't going to come in and do that.”