CHATHAM — At low tide, the depth of the entrance channel to Outermost Harbor is measured in inches, not feet. That’s good news for beachgoers who like to wade across without getting their knees wet, but it spells big trouble for Outermost Harbor Marine, whose customers can find their boats stuck at the dock until high tide.
The owners of the marina have started an online petition seeking the town’s support in obtaining dredge permits, procuring the services of the county dredge, and providing financial help.
“Right now, we’re really looking for help any way the town can help us,” marina owner Harrison Kahn said.
The marina has its own small dredge which spent many hours last winter keeping the harbor entrance clear, but sand migrating south from Lighthouse Beach and North Beach Island continually threatens to close off the small harbor. Once protected by the barrier beach, Outermost Harbor is now basically exposed to the Atlantic.
“The channel leading into Outermost Harbor is a public town-owned channel that serves a large number of Chatham residents, visiting tourists, and local emergency responders,” the petition reads. “We, [Outermost Harbor Marine], have taken it upon ourselves to try to maintain the channel this past year, but are now at the point where we need your support and assistance.”
All of the boats in the marina are able to transit the channel between two- and two-and-a-half-hours before and after high tide, and when owners will need them at other times, the larger vessels are temporarily placed on moorings outside the harbor entrance, and the marina provides a shuttle.
“Obviously it’s not the same as having the boat on the dock,” Kahn said.
While the marina is a private business, the public has an interest in keeping the channel open, Kahn said. The Coast Guard, the harbormaster’s department, the fire department and the Lighthouse Beach patrol all use the harbor when it’s available, he said.
The channel also provides access to the small marsh to the south, where around a dozen boats are on private moorings.
“It’s definitely not just the marina access,” Kahn said.
Specifically, the marina is asking for some regulatory relief, like lifting the requirement that an engineer must oversee its maintenance dredging operations. That requirement makes it even more expensive for the marina to keep the channel clear, Kahn said. A better solution would be to have a full-sized dredge clear the waterway.
“We’ve been trying to get on the county dredge [program] forever,” Kahn said.
Chatham Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson said he is still working on finalizing a meeting with the marina owners, who have asked to bring their case to the board of selectmen. But there’s no simple solution, Duncanson said.
“Probably the only viable option for the town would be, if there’s availability, and if the board of selectmen and others sign off on it as a policy, we could try to get the county dredge in,” he said. But significant problems with the county dredges has put the operation far behind in its work. “They have a lot of projects held over from last year,” Duncanson said.
Among those overdue projects are two key ones in Chatham: the dredging of the mooring area at Aunt Lydia’s Cove and the clearing of the Stage Harbor entrance channel, which also provides important beach nourishment for Ridgevale, Cockle Cove and other south-side beaches. If the Outermost Harbor project were added to the request for the county dredge, town officials would need to decide whether it would happen before, after, or at the expense of one of the other jobs.
“We haven’t had a discussion like that,” Duncanson said.
Barnstable County now has two operational dredges. The Codfish was recently drydocked, and crews determined that despite the vessel’s age, it was worth repairing. The newer dredge, the Sand Shifter, has been plagued by mechanical problems and has been undergoing modifications by its manufacturer. The county is also in the process of soliciting bids for a third dredge. It is conceivable that all three could be operational at once.
“But it’s not just a question of having three dredges,” Duncanson said. The county needs sufficient personnel to operate them, and sufficient pipes and pumps to support two or three simultaneous dredging operations.
There is some good news, Kahn said. The state Division of Marine Fisheries has issued a waiver that will allow an extension of dredging through April 1, when other dredging projects are prohibited to protect spawning winter flounder. That waiver still requires approval from state environmental officials.
As of early this week, the online petition had gathered 324 signatures. Kahn said that the marina will continue doing what it needs to do to remain in operation next year, “regardless of what the town does.”
This article was corrected on Aug. 23 to clarify that all boats that use the harbor have access up to 2.5 hours either side of high tide, and that larger boats are put on moorings outside the harbor on a temporary basis.