A Little Dredging Drudgery Reveals Common Goals On Nauset Estuary

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Dredging

The working group of Nauset Estuary stakeholders includes (left to right) Eastham Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe, Cape Cod National Seashore Superintendent Brian Carlstrom, and Orleans Town Administrator John Kelly.  ED MARONEY PHOTO

EASTHAM Representatives of Orleans, Eastham, and Cape Cod National Seashore parsed a draft memorandum of understanding Sept. 9 at Eastham Town Hall and found ways to move forward on improving navigation and public safety in Nauset Estuary.

Orleans, which is paying for a battery of environmental studies of the estuary, wants to see environmental questions related to dredging resolved and a multi-jurisdictional framework for federal and state review set up before permitting begins, according to Town Administrator John Kelly. Eastham is focused on getting “the data we need to make better and more informed decisions” about proceeding to the next step, said Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe. Seashore Superintendent Brian Carlstrom said his agency's goal is “continued cooperation with both towns” in support of “adequate navigation and safety that may entail dredging.”

Woods Hole Group consultant Leslie Fields reviewed scientific studies completed or in progress. Sediment coring and chemistry “came back fine for upland disposal” of dredge spoils, she said, and a shellfish sampling survey will be conducted next week with results available a few weeks later. A red tide cyst pilot project to determine whether the cysts would remain viable once dewatered and put in a dune for restoration will be conducted between December and April.

An EFH (essential fish habitat) study, a biological assessment, and a review of cultural and historic aspects should be completed by the end of the month, according to Fields. WHG has also spoken with MassWildlife's Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program to coordinate a review of dewatering sites, and has met with state agencies to arrange a special review procedure that would coordinate various agency assessments of any project.

“There's a lot that has been accomplished,” Orleans Selectman Kevin Galligan said. “I hope that as stakeholders we look at this as really a lot of research study and good supporting documentation.” He pushed for a specific timeline of actions in the memorandum of understanding.

That document will be reviewed by the two town's boards and counsels as well as the National Park Service's solicitor's office. Carlstrom found two items in the draft to excise immediately: a “connotation that the National Park Service has a regulatory component relative to dredging; we don't,” and a reference to the Seashore Advisory Commission, which ceased existing “a year ago and is no longer standing.”

Given that federal review of the MOU might take more than a month, Galligan said he hoped “to move this as far as I can as quickly as I can. For town meeting (funding), we need to have a sense (of costs) by January. If we're still working on the MOU in October, we won't be ready for the voters in May.” Orleans Natural Resources Manager Nate Sears wanted “to be sure that what we are doing syncs with what the National Park would like to see.” Carlstrom said Seashore staff “has been in the loop on anything going on so far.”

The special review procedure would include a citizens advisory committee, which at first seemed it would be an entity separate from the working group. Charlie Carlson, chairman of the Orleans Dredge Advisory Committee, had another idea.

“This group, with a couple of other people, could be the CAC,” he said. “Just have a single body reviewing this. Everybody around this table has some experience in dredging investigations and is similarly informed by their town committees. We don't need to start all over again.”

That made sense to the working group, which will eventually make recommendations on how to improve navigation and public safety in the estuary to the towns' boards of selectmen. Funding of projects would be up to town meetings.

Fields tried out “Nauset Estuary Dredging Stakeholder Group” as a name for the entity that met last week, but Carlstrom asked, “Is 'dredging' the appropriate term? We're really trying to maintain safety and navigation. If suddenly a big storm opened up the outer channel, we wouldn't be talking dredging.”

“It could be the Nauset Estuary Stakeholder Group,” Fields suggested. “There's something to be said for that,” Beebe commented.