CHATHAM — With shoaling at the entrance to Stage Harbor now at a critical level, the federal government is sending in the cavalry, or more precisely, the Army Corps of Engineers. The hopper dredge Currituck is expected to begin work around the second week in December.
“Conditions have deteriorated substantially over the last few months, and from what I gather, even more so in the last few weeks after the series of October weather events,” Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon said. “The timing is very fortuitous.”
While recreational boating has dropped off significantly, “the commercial boats and the Coast Guard were getting further and further concerned about conditions,” he said.
The Currituck was scheduled to begin work this week after completing a job at Cuttyhunk Harbor, but it damaged its hull while on that assignment and is returning to its home port of Wilmington, N.C. for repairs. That work should be completed quickly and the dredge is expected to arrive in Chatham by Dec. 10.
The work here is expected to take around three weeks, Keon said. It is made possible in part by support from Congressman Bill Keating, D–Ninth District, Keon added.
“Twenty to 25 days was the estimate,” he said. Army Corps officials arrived in Chatham last week and began surveying the harbor entrance in advance of the dredge’s arrival.
Unlike the county dredges, which pump the recovered sand to the beach using a series of pipes, the Currituck is a hopper dredge that loads the dredged material into a large open well. The ship then motors to the disposal site and opens up along the keel, allowing the recovered sand to spill out.
“The Currituck is not able to place the sand on the beach, which is a goal of ours,” Keon said. For that reason, its primary mission is to get the harbor entrance navigable again.
Keon said the county is expected to provide a dredge in February or March which will remove more sand from the Stage Harbor channel system, depositing it on the beach. Recovered sand is used to nourish beaches on the south side of town, staving off erosion and providing wide sandy areas for beachgoers the following summer.
Barnstable County’s dredge program has seen a number of challenges. The dredge Sand Shifter, purchased to supplement the aging dredge Codfish, had design problems and had to be retrofitted to improve its reliability. Both dredges are now functioning properly again, and the county is soon expecting delivery of a third dredge, which will significantly boost the program’s productivity.