CHATHAM — Without discussion, the conservation voted unanimously last week to accept the town’s request to withdraw plans to dredge in Chatham Harbor near the North Cut. At least for now, that move hasn’t ended a waterfront property owner’s suit against the town.
On Sept. 4, about a week after the town issued a press release announcing that it had withdrawn the North Cut area from its dredging plans for the harbor, the conservation commission approved the town’s withdrawal request.
The town’s original application was permitted under an order of conditions that was appealed by property owner Gerald Milden and then upheld by state regulators. Milden further appealed the approval through the Department of Environmental Protection’s appeals office, and filed another appeal in Barnstable Superior Court related to the commission’s approval under the town’s wetland protection bylaw.
“Rather than continue to devote time and resources to litigate a permit that would no longer be adequate to accommodate dredging needs for boaters, fishermen and emergency responders, the town of Chatham is requesting to withdraw the limited Chatham Harbor dredge area in favor of working on a more comprehensive dredging application,” the town’s withdrawal request reads.
In a letter to the conservation commission on Sept. 4, Milden’s attorney, Paul Revere, III, said the commission lacks the authority to act on the withdrawal request, since the state issued its superseding order of conditions. Mass. DEP has the only authority to modify that order, he said.
Likewise, the superior court would need to remand the case back to the conservation commission before it can act on the permit it issued under the town’s wetland bylaw, Revere argued.
About a year ago, the conservation commission granted emergency permission for dredging near the North Inlet, to preserve access to and from the harbor by commercial fishing boats and Coast Guard rescue vessels. Weather conditions ultimately prevented the dredging, but the problem area was included in an amendment to the town's comprehensive dredging permit that included three other areas in the harbor and Pleasant Bay. The conservation commission approved the changes, but Milden argued that dredging there would increase erosion on his property. Since that time, the problematic shoals have shifted out of the originally permitted area, so that even if dredging went ahead there, it would not ensure a suitable channel for navigation.
Town officials say they plan to include that area in a more comprehensive amendment to the dredging permit that will include much of the harbor, due to anticipated future dredging needs.