Outermost Harbor Marine Seeks Special Plymouth Dredge To Clear Channel

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Dredging

This summer, beachgoers could wade across the Outermost Harbor entrance channel at low tide. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM — The owners of Outermost Harbor Marine are hoping that a special long-reach excavator owned by Plymouth County might be the best tool for dredging the entrance to Outermost Harbor.

The excavator, used last year to clear portions of Allen Harbor and Wychmere Harbor in Harwich, is expected to be needed for around seven days’ work, the marina’s attorney William Riley told selectmen this week. Plymouth County is charging a $200 daily rental fee for the equipment, plus $1,200 for transportation costs each way. The estimated total $3,800 cost will be “borne solely by Outermost Harbor Marine,” Riley said, though his clients need the Chatham Board of Selectmen to sign the contract. The dredge will be operated by a licensed technician hired by the marina, Riley said.

The proposal still requires review by the conservation commission. While the dredging is allowed under existing permits, those permits require the marina to have an environmental engineer on site while all dredging work is being conducted.

“They’ve indicated that they feel that that is onerous,” Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson told the board. For that reason, the marina is seeking to have the previous order of conditions amended to remove that requirement.

Riley said the conservation department regularly requires engineers to be on site when work is being conducted, even if it involves something as simple as the removal of invasive plants. That requirement is often ignored, he said.

Duncanson said the requirement for the engineer is not without reason. “There were some issues with some of the work that was done last winter,” he said.

Outermost Harbor Marine operates its own small dredge to keep the entrance channel clear, but aerial photos taken after the fact show that the dredging conducted last December and early January may have extended beyond the approved dredge area, officials said. In March, heavy equipment was brought over Lighthouse Beach to assist in the dredging, and those machines damaged large swaths of beach grass and part of the road leading to the beach.

According to Duncanson’s monthly report to selectmen, town staff and the conservation commission chairman reiterated the need for an engineer to be present each day to oversee the dredging.

“During several meetings with Outermost earlier this summer, town staff were made aware that Outermost was dealing with irreconcilable differences of opinion with Coastal Engineering, and therefore Coastal Engineering may not continue as engineer for the project,” he wrote.

Duncanson said he has advised Outermost Harbor Marine that if they have an alternative to the on-site engineer requirement, they should bring it to the conservation commission for consideration. Riley said that Duncanson has been very helpful during the process.

Town Manager Jill Goldsmith said one requirement for using a public resource—the Plymouth dredge—to work on private property is to have selectmen declare that doing so meets an “overriding public interest.” Harbormaster Stuart Smith said there’s a compelling case to be made, since both the Coast Guard and his department use the harbor.

“Outermost Harbor is a very strategic location” for responding to emergencies in the lower part of Chatham Harbor, he said. A number of local mariners rely on it as well, he said. “We don’t have many boatyards or marinas to begin with,” he said. Shellfishermen often use the harbor, and the shellfish advisory committee recently voted to support the marina’s dredge request.

Preserving the channel also preserves access to important shellfish beds and a small public mooring field, Duncanson said.

Resident Meredith Fry, whose parents own a home near Edgewater Drive, said the sand spit migrating south from Lighthouse Beach across the harbor entrance links to the barrier beach east of the Morris Island causeway, providing a natural barrier to ocean waves.

“If you dredge there, will you be subjecting these homes to the ocean?” she asked.

Duncanson said the question is a valid one.

“Clearly if the channel wasn’t there, more than likely [the spit] would potentially be more protective to the Little Beach area,” he said. While the spit is completely washed over during major storms, it does absorb some of the wave energy coming through the Fool’s Cut, he noted. Until that inlet migrates further south, “any beach or secondary barrier beach there would be protective to the Little Beach neighborhood. But again, the downside to that is, it would put the marina out of business,” Duncanson said.

Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon said he believes the size of the channel being maintained would have little impact on the effectiveness of the spit, which is very low. If at some point there is a proposal to build that beach up as a high barrier against storms, “then that’s a different topic,” Keon said.

Selectmen voted to authorize Goldsmith to draft a contract for the Plymouth excavator, and to have that contract reviewed by town counsel. They also declared that the dredging project meets an overriding public interest.

“This is not a long-term solution to their concerns,” Selectman Cory Metters said of the marina. But he supported the project “because they have a long road ahead of them.”