Towns Agree On Next Steps In Dredging Effort

By: Ed Maroney

Eastham Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe reviews a projected list of steps for her town and Orleans to pursue in dredging Nauset Estuary.  ED MARONEY PHOTO

EASTHAM — The selectmen of Eastham and Orleans have reached an agreement to move forward on dredging Nauset Estuary.

Exactly where the shovels will dig and other issues are unresolved, but the boards, meeting June 24 at Eastham Public Library, saw the wisdom of letting the permitting process provide the information they'll need to make such decisions. At the same time, the boards green-lighted a variety of field studies that regulators have suggested need to be done.

“Currently,” Eastham Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe told the boards at the outset of the meeting, “advocates and opponents are frustrated with this impasse. It feels like we're stuck. We won't get unstuck until we can prove to at least a majority that this can be done or can't be done, and why, unless we have an objective data set.”

Beebe said she hoped everyone could agree on the following goals: safer navigation, a clear channel to the inlet, access to safe harbor for boats, access to moorings and town landings, protection of the barrier beach and estuary, protection of shellfishing and aquaculture grants, and preservation of the salt marsh.

“What Eastham is proposing is to complete the studies and field investigations,” Beebe said, “from Town Cove through the central main channel down into Priscilla spur up into the main channel behind the barrier all the way out. We'd like a narrower channel away from the beach, and not too close to the marsh, and to dredge as far as possible into the Priscilla Landing spur. (We would) eliminate Hemenway channel and Cable Creek from dredging. We want to protect that salt marsh.”

The “most important thing for Eastham,” said Beebe, “is that we have to get the Seashore back to the table to look at the basic design of what we're talking about so they can opine ahead of time. I know they won't give us answers before there's a plan to permit.”

Woods Hole Group consultant Leslie Fields said she had spoken with Eastham's consultant, Mark Borelli of the Center for Coastal Studies, and “we both thought it would be valuable to look at the rate the barrier beach is migrating landward.” Given the concern that dredging in back of the channel could lead to sands falling into the channel and not aiding the beach's westward migration, she said, “we had moved the channel off the backside and narrowed it.” A geomorphology analysis, said Fields, “would give everyone some comfort that where the channel is will not have an impact on the stability of the barrier beach.”

Regarding Beebe's concern that the National Seashore needed to comment on dredging in outstanding resource waters (ORW), Fields said there are two kinds of ORWs: public drinking supplies and others. The state Department of Environmental Protection “does permit improvement dredging in ORWs that are not public drinking supplies if you can show the project will enhance infrastructure at, say, public landings,” Fields said. “It's similar to what they did in Chatham. They were restoring navigation to areas once open to navigation before the breaches. In our case, it's restoring navigation to Priscilla and other town landings.” Fields noted that the DEP, not the Seashore, oversees ORWs.

With the exception of the red tide cyst pilot project, which must be conducted in the winter, Fields said all field investigations could be completed by the fall. These include a shellfish survey, collection of sediment cores and chemistry analyses, essential fish habitat assessment, and a biological assessment, among others. At the same time, Fields would pursue approval of a special process that would mesh the review cycles of various regulatory agencies and establish a citizen advisory committee made up of a range of stakeholders.

“We have to look out for everybody,” Eastham Selectmen Chairman Aimee Eckman said. “I want to make sure we do no harm. Nobody wants to see any harm done out there. I'm pro going forward with the permitting issue to be sure there won't be any harm done. If we run into roadblocks, I don't want to see us say we know there are problems but move ahead anyway. I'd be uncomfortable with that. People in town are concerned about what this could do. We should take every step to make sure things won't be damaged.”