CHATHAM – Selectmen Monday authorized the expenditure of $2.6 million to rebuild the Eldredge trap dock on Stage Harbor.
In a move that likely reflects ongoing problems with the fish pier observation deck construction, officials rejected the low bidder on the project, instead opting to go with the second lowest bidder.
The town purchased the trap dock from the Eldredge family in 2016 for $1.3 million to preserve the last commercial fish pier in Stage Harbor and to ensure that the town's fishing fleet has an alternative offloading location. Shoaling in Chatham Harbor makes the long-term viability of the municipal fish pier in Aunt Lydia's Cove “somewhat questionable,” said Director of Health and Natural Resources Robert Duncanson, and conditions have become even more tenuous since the Stage Harbor dock was purchased.
“More and more of the fleet is working out of Stage Harbor” at various times of the year, he said.
The condition of the trap dock, which is 80 or more years old, has also continued to deteriorate. Some of the pilings supporting the structure are “basically just hanging in the air,” and others are rotted at the mud line, Duncanson said. The foundation of the bulkhead is collapsing and full of voids. When the town rebuilt the adjacent Old Mill Boatyard pier two years ago, pilings were taken from there and used to shore up the trap dock, he said.
“Whenever there's a strong southeast storm, I'm wondering whether or not the pier is still going to be there,” Duncanson told selectmen Monday. He warned that other problems could be discovered during construction.
“You never know when you start digging in a place like that, that's been manipulated for 100 years or so,” he said.
The cost of the project will be covered by the $11 million waterfront infrastructure bond approved by voters two years ago.
Duncanson said the low bid for the work submitted by AGM Marine Contractors of Mashpee was rejected due to four discrepancies, including the failure to include a list of subcontractors. The company also failed to follow the bid specifications by not providing a narrative and insurance forms, he said. AGM's bid was $1,981,300, about $700,000 less than ACK Marine and General Contracting of Quincy, the second lowest bidder at $2,298,900, and significantly lower than the initial estimate. Four other bidders submitted prices that were closer to ACK, Duncanson said, so AGM's low bid “raised some concerns.”
“We felt it was a risk you didn't want to take,” said Owner's Project Manager Richard Pomroy.
Town officials have been criticized for hiring low bidder Sciaba Construction for the $1.6 million reconstruction of the fish pier observation deck. That project, originally slated to be completed over the summer, remains unfinished, and as of early this week a final completion date had not yet been set.
Duncanson said he anticipates the ACK Marine mobilizing by the beginning of December. The project schedule calls for the work to be “substantially completed” by April 16 with final completion no later than May 1, before the boating season begins in earnest.
“Timing is critical due to the uncertainties of Chatham Harbor conditions and [the] physical condition of the trap dock,” Duncanson wrote in a memo.
Selectman Jeffrey Dykens said he thought that schedule was aggressive, although he supported the project. Selectman Cory Metters added that if the work can be done by May, or sooner, “it would be a great achievement for this town right now, getting it done on time.”
Officials originally worked with the Stage Harbor Yacht Club, which owns the pier immediately to the west of the trap dock, with the idea of designing and even rebuilding them together to try to save money. But the town was looking at a more substantial structure than the Yacht Club wanted, and the parties parted ways.
The new dock will remain substantially within the same footprint as the existing trap dock, Duncanson said, which minimized permitting. Concrete pilings and pier deck will ensure longevity and endurance in the rough waterfront conditions; the deck will support box trucks and there will be two davits to assist fishermen offloading their vessels. The so-called “sick bay” between the trap dock and the Yacht Club pier will remain and will be deepened slightly so that a boat can dock there without sticking out beyond the face of the pier, he said.
A shed now on the trap dock will be removed and pilings installed for an open shelter which will be built later, perhaps a year from now, Duncanson said.
Although the pier could not be raised high enough to get it out of the flood zone—that would have put it about seven feet higher than the existing structure, Duncanson said—it will be about one foot higher than the current pier. Electronics and other infrastructure will be enclosed and protected against flooding.
“Basically this pier is designed to enable it to flood,” Duncanson said.
Although the town received a $150,000 Seaport Economic Council grant for design and permitting, a grant request for construction funds was turned down. There's also the possibility that $500,000 from the town's waterways user fee revolving fund could help offset the cost. Selectmen recommended that, but the final decision is up to Town Manager Jill Goldsmith based on recommendations from the harbormaster, waterways advisory committee, Aunt Lydia's Cove committee and South Coastal harbor planning committee. The fund currently has a balance of $722,052.
Selectmen endorsed the project 4-0, with chair Shareen Davis, a member of the Eldredge family that sold the dock to the town, recusing herself.
“It's a no-brainer,” said Dykens, “providing insurance for fishermen now using the pier.”
“Moving this along before it falls apart is good,” added Harbormaster Stuart Smith.