Fish Pier Deck Delayed; Drawbridge Work Completed Ahead Of Schedule

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Infrastructure , Waterways

The old fish pier observation deck has been removed and new concrete footings have been poured, but work has been delayed by rainy weather. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

CHATHAM Town officials have mixed news when it comes to two projects they’d hoped to have complete before the Memorial Day weekend. While the Mitchell River drawbridge repairs were completed ahead of schedule, the construction of a new observation deck at the fish pier might not be.

The contractor carrying out the work at the fish pier has requested a slight extension of the deadline for building the new observation deck and installing new fuel tanks and pumps. The contract with Sciaba Construction Corp. of Walpole calls for the work to be completed by or before May 15, in what town officials acknowledged was an aggressive schedule. The contract for the $1.6 million job was awarded in December, and work began last month.

“The tank work is pretty well complete,” Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson said Monday. The work on the new observation deck was delayed by the rainy weather, which kept the contractor from pouring concrete for several days.

“They’re a little behind schedule,” Duncanson said. The town is considering extending the contract to around June 1. “We still anticipate it will be finished long before the peak visitor season,” he said.

The observation deck is one of the town's most popular tourist attractions, drawing as many as 3,000 people per day during the height of the summer season. Its capacity has been limited to 100 for several years because of structural concerns. The new deck will be larger and will have a second stairway for emergency access as well as a small elevator to comply with accessibility laws.

The work has not impeded the unloading or packing of fish and should be complete before the bulk of the fleet resumes fishing in June.

“Right now we’re not anticipating any substantial impacts,” Duncanson said.

The construction has prompted the group Women of Fishing Families to cancel this year’s Blessing of the Fleet.

“It's our favorite event (and it means so much to us!) so we will miss it, for sure—but we'll be excited for next year!” organizer Karen Murdoch wrote in an email to The Chronicle.

The news is better with another water-related public project, the repairs on the Mitchell River drawbridge. The bridge was closed early last month to allow the bridge contractor, SPS New England, to disassemble the top layer of the movable span and make adjustments. The work was the latest effort to fix the $14 million drawbridge, which sometimes sticks in the closed position or will not fully close after opening, particularly during humid weather.

While the work was scheduled to be complete by May 26, crews completed the job this week, and the bridge resumed normal operations Tuesday, with all traffic detours lifted.

The work was “pretty substantial,” he said, and involved the removal of the wooden wear surface, the top planks that vehicles pass over, which rests on top of timber deck panels. Is Duncanson confident that the work will keep the bridge from sticking?

“Ask me that question on those hot, humid, sticky days in August,” he said. “That will be the true test.”

The town owns the bridge, but MassDOT has acknowledged design problems and has committed to fixing them.