ORLEANS — The selectmen voted unanimously last week to move ahead with the first year of a revised scope of field investigations and permitting for a less ambitious dredging of Nauset Estuary, for now at least without the financial support of neighboring Eastham.
“We've revised dredge volumes,” Woods Hole Group consultant Leslie Fields told the board May 15. “Before, the channel that started at the inlet and went all the way down to Town Cove was 100 feet wide. We reduced everything to 50 feet wide.” That means the amount of sand to be dredged behind the barrier beach, for example, is now 71,000 cubic yards rather than 127,000.
The revised program includes backing off 100 feet or more from the barrier beach “to avoid impacts,” Fields said. A Center for Coastal Studies review of an earlier version of the dredging plan had criticized that iteration's possible effects on the beach, and that report influenced Eastham's recent decision not to help fund ongoing work.
“At town meeting, the primary concerns were environmental, not financial,” said Eastham Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe, who attended last week's meeting in Orleans. “It was about not dredging behind the barrier beach.” Eastham asked the Center to study that question, she said, and “the answer was that dredging the channel immediately behind the barrier could accelerate erosion” via overwashes.
But Eastham recognizes there's a problem with navigation and public safety and “will do everything possible if we want to talk about dredging in the cove or out toward the spit,” Beebe said. “But the barrier beach is not something Eastham is willing to take the risk to dredge behind.”
“I think I heard you say that Eastham... would probably be interested in (work on) Town Cove, Snow Shore, Priscilla Landing,” Selectmen Chairman Alan McClennen said. “We might bifurcate this activity and spend some time focusing on the inner channel. If we decided to focus on that, that means the National Park Service quite likely wouldn't have to be at the table. Virtually all of that is outside Seashore bounds.”
Bill Amaru, chairman of the town's dredge advisory committee, asked Beebe if Eastham would “act to prevent the town of Orleans from dredging in their waters a 50-foot channel leading up to the current embayment.” The town administrator said Eastham's conservation commission would have to look at the proposed work and promised to discuss it with her board of selectmen.
“Leslie alluded to my frustration,” Selectman Mark Mathison said. “I don't deny that. This whole project, which started as a citizen petition by some of our commercial fishermen four or five years ago at Orleans Town Meeting, has meandered through a myriad of pathways. It continues to be a rudderless ship... at some point, we need to determine who's in charge and give them the resources they need to get this thing moving forward. When we hear our own dredge committee can't get (a consultant in), when Leslie says she needs direction and can't get it, when we have miscommunication, misunderstandings between the towns involved, that's unacceptable.”
Mathison said the board needs to “at some point very soon determine who's running this operation and who's coordinating between consultants, our dredge committee and our town boards and departments, and the towns that could be our partners.” That includes the possibility of multiple towns sharing the cost of their own dredge.
Dredge advisory committee member Charlie Carlson said he agreed with Mathison: “The town needs an individual who's responsible, rather than a committee, for moving this process forward. It's too hard to rely on a committee to be the driving force.”
Chatham Town Meeting last week approved $50,000 to investigate a town-owned dredge; the measure included language directing officials to look into working with other municipalities.