Officials: Additional Stage Harbor Dredging Likely To Be Needed

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Waterways

The Army Corps of Engineers dredge Currituck works in the Stage Harbor entrance channel. Although the dredge was able to clear shoals from the much-used waterways, it was unable to complete the job due to funding. Officials are seeking $500,000 at the March 7 special town meeting to do further dredging of the channel in anticipation of the summer boating season. SPENCER KENNARD PHOTO

$500K Sought In Upcoming Special Town Meeting

CHATHAM – When the Army Corps of Engineers dredge Currituck left town recently, it had not yet completed clearing shoals from the Stage Harbor entrance channel.

“It's much improved,” Harbormaster Stuart Smith said of the channel, which has silted in considerably over recent months. The Coast Guard was scheduled to move buoys to mark the best water, he said, but there are still shoal areas. The dredge left because federal funds for the project ran out, leaving the town to figure out how to get the rest of the channel cleared and keep it open for the summer boating season.

The two options available are to get the Barnstable County dredge to do the work or hire a private contractor. Officials aren't sure if the former is possible, and the latter may prove to be very expensive.

Shoaling in the Stage Harbor channel has increased because the old 1987 inlet in North Beach has moved south so that it is “almost a straight shot from the Atlantic to the Stage Harbor channel” between Morris Island and Monomoy, said Smith, “and that has brought in considerable shoaling.”

“Our concern is, frankly, conditions there are getting so dire. Even if we're dredging at this time of year, we have grave concerns whether that will still be sufficient come boating season starting in June,” Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson told selectmen last week.

The March 7 special town meeting will include a request for $500,000 to augment the town's dredging account so that money will be available if additional dredging is needed prior to the boating season.

Stage Harbor may be the town's busiest waterway; it includes more than 1,300 moorings and slips, mostly recreational but many commercial as well, three marinas and several public boat launching facilities. The former trap dock that the town purchased two years ago is now being rebuilt for use by commercial fishermen; as navigation in Chatham Harbor becomes more difficult, fishermen are expected to make more use of the Stage Harbor facility.

Smith said it's uncertain whether the county dredge will be able to work in the Stage Harbor channel, which is experiencing more significant currents than in the past. The dredge is scheduled to work in Aunt Lydia's Cove in March, and officials are trying to determine if it should instead try to work in Stage Harbor.

“Both projects need it,” Smith said. “Of the two, Stage Harbor is more concerning given the rapid rate of shoaling and the need for beach nourishment.” The county dredge would use a pipeline to pump sand onto the beach, probably Harding's Beach, he said.

Officials wanted to have the option to hire a private dredging firm if needed, although they expected the costs to be “significantly higher” than the county's rates, Duncanson said. Bids from private firms were sought on removal of up to 15,000 cubic yards of sand from the channel. The bids were opened last Wednesday; three bids were received, with the apparent low bidder DredgIt Corporation of Houston, Texas, at $507,500. That's the same company currently doing dredging at Outermost Harbor Marine, said Duncanson, who will analyze the bids before a contract is awarded.

Between the county dredge and a private firm, additional work in the channel will probably need to get done before the summer, Smith said.

“Our fear is that it will just sand in where the Corps just finished,” he said.